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The Surprising Power of a 10-Minute Walk

By Kate Rockwood | December 6, 2018 | Rally Health

Walking is free, can be safe and low impact, and it can be done almost anywhere, anytime. This much underrated form of exercise can help you live longer and live better. When it comes to slowing the rate of aging, “walking makes up more than 50 percent of the total benefit of all physical activity,” says Michael Roizen, MD, Cleveland Clinic’s chief wellness officer who uses a treadmill desk at work and never goes to bed before clocking his 10,000 steps.

The more active you are, the more you’ll benefit, but even a few fast-paced walks a day still give you the pluses of exercise, like controlling your weight and reducing your risk of heart disease and stroke. Exercise, like brisk walking, can reduce the risk of developing heart disease. One study of 27,000 women found that the women getting the most exercise had a 40 percent reduction in heart attack and stroke compared with those getting the least. Exercise can also lower your blood pressure. That’s great news since high blood pressure increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. Regular exercise may also boost your mood, help you think more clearly, and get better sleep.

So how exactly does walking do all this? While some of the mechanisms are still a mystery, there are a few things doctors know about how walking helps our bodies and minds. “When you stretch your muscles, you release a protein that gets across the blood-brain barrier, and causes the brain to grow,” says Roizen.

How does this happen? One 2011 study set out to explain it. The hippocampus, the part of brain that’s responsible for memory (among other things), shrinks with age, increasing one’s risk of developing dementia. But when researchers tracked people who walked for 40 minutes three times per week, they found that these subjects increased the volume of their hippocampus by 2 percent. And while that might seem small, the 2 percent increase actually reversed age-related volume loss by one to two years.

The goal is to make sure you’re doing at least 10 minutes of aerobic activity at a time. Aerobic activity means that you break a sweat and your heart is beating faster. You might be able to talk to a friend, but you wouldn’t have enough breath to sing. Aim for a speed around three miles per hour, says cardiologist David Sabgir, MD, who started the Walk With a Doc initiative to get his patients to walk more and now has more than 400 doctor-led chapters worldwide. Ideally, you’d get at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity five days a week but you don’t have to hit those targets right away. Just get moving and build up to it.

If you’re still questioning whether short bouts of movement can actually have an impact, consider this: A recent study found that walking at a moderate pace or faster, for up to an hour each day (no matter if each spurt of movement was only five or 10 minutes long,) can slash a person’s risk of an early death in half. So if you spend most of your days parked in front of a computer, getting up frequently to walk around is the best way to break up a dangerously sedentary lifestyle.

“Simply limiting sedentary behavior can increase your longevity and improve your health considerably,” says Melina Jampolis, MD, author of Spice Up, Slim Down.

How to get walking

Even if you have a busy schedule, you probably have at least 10 minutes of free time in your day. Figure out where and when you have time and then schedule in a walk or two.

Here are some ideas to work walking into your life:

Lunch break. If you get a lunch break at work, schedule in a walk. It can be a spin around the parking lot or running an errand. Or choose a lunch spot that’s at least a 10-minute walk away, and you’ll get in your 20 minutes, there and back.

Change your commute. Can you make part of your work commute walkable? For example, if you take certain types of public transportation, you might be able to get off an at earlier stop to give yourself a longer walk to work.

Join the club. Many communities have walking clubs you can join. Or you can organize one yourself with friends, family, or neighbors. A little peer pressure can be a good thing.

Beat the weather. If the weather isn’t suitable for walking outdoors, hit the local mall or look up other indoor tracks. Fitness clubs or community centers may have indoor walking tracks you can use for free or a small fee. You can also buy walking exercise DVDs to walk in place at home.

Once you’ve started, your daily walk might be the thing you look forward to most!

Kate Rockwood
Rally Health