For years, I have been a walker – pounding the pavement in our neighborhood with a group of friends as a FREE and active way to socialize.
Our daily walks (sometimes twice a day) were literally a breath of fresh air during COVID, when my neighbors and I quickly realized not only that outdoor walking was a safe way to get together but that we could see and experience a lot more on foot than we had previously noticed from our cars.
As COVID dragged on, my walking friends and I watched the seasons change, enjoyed seeing the lush spring blooms form on a fabulously exotic peony, made a daily detour down an alley to see a glorious late summer stand of okra and marveled for days about a sugar maple’s spectacular fall colors.
We watched a creative group of teens build (and perform on) their own ninja course in their back yard, we climbed over train tracks and learned some Nashville history from one of our native walkers as we explored adjoining neighborhood streets.
We hoofed it on the nearby greenways, and were among the first to walk along Centennial Park’s beautiful new allees (walking paths) that lead from the front of the park to the Parthenon.
We saw so much! And shared so much about our lives and passions as we walked. The walk and talks were definitely bonding.
Plus, we congratulated ourselves on the fact that this stepped-up walking routine (sometimes accumulating as many as 18,000 steps each a day) was adding up to better health for all of us.
When I saw a recent Vanderbilt University Medical Center study on the health benefits of walking, I was anxious to see the details. Especially since we are still faithfully walking every day.
“Taking more than 8,200 steps per day (about 4 miles) was found to protect against obesity, sleep apnea, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and major depressive disorder,” said Vanderbilt spokesman Bill Snyder in his summary of the research that appeared in the “Nature Medicine” journal.
In addition, “the data suggests that overweight individuals can reduce their risk of becoming obese by 64% if they increase their steps,” it said.
No big surprise that staying active by walking is beneficial, but the research reinforced our efforts nevertheless.
“Using a wearable activity tracker to count and increase the number and intensity of steps taken daily can reduce the risk of several common, chronic diseases, including diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and sleep apnea,” the report concluded.
But the running question (or walking question) for my group was about the “intensity of steps” — how much difference the pace of our walks makes.
In other words, are those of us who are slower walkers getting as much benefit to our health as our faster walking pals who gleefully leave us in the dust as we struggle to keep up?
I had to ask the question, and was told by researcher Evan Brittain, “Based on our data the combination of more steps and faster pace is best but there is definitely still benefit in getting the steps at any pace.”
There were no big revelations in this study – but it is definitely a good reminder to my walking friends and me that keeping up with our walking (at any pace) will make us healthier.
And now that I know about “intensity” I am going to try to speed it up too!
I was also heartened to see that the researchers said that “wearables (including cell phones that track steps) can encourage patients to exercise by enabling them to set, measure and track their fitness goals.”
I know that is true for me, that if I notice that I have only a measly 2,000-3,000 steps by midday, I realize I better hit the pavement and increase that number both for my health and my sanity -not to mention the peer pressure from my fast paced walking friends.
A few details of the report
“Risk declined for most conditions as the number of steps increased, except for the risk of hypertension and diabetes, which did not decline further after participants reached about 8,000 to 9,000 steps per day,” Snyder’s summary said.
The study analyzed an average of four years of activity and health data from more than 6,000 participants in the federal “All of Us” precision medicine research initiative who wore Fitbit activity trackers at least 10 hours a day.
“Although validation in a more diverse sample is needed, these findings provide a real-world evidence-base for clinical guidance regarding activity levels that are necessary to reduce disease risk,” the report said.
Mary Hance, who has four decades of journalism experience in the Nashville area, writes a weekly Ms. Cheap column. She also appears on Thursdays on Talk of the Town on NewsChannel5. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Facebook as Facebook.com/mscheap
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