Walking, Even a Little, May Help Older Adults Live Longer

An older couple taking a walk on the beach.
(Image credit: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock)

Regular walking may help older adults live longer, even if they don't walk enough to meet exercise guidelines, a new study finds.

According to U.S. exercise guidelines, adults ages 18 to 64 should get at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate physical activity per week. But only about half of all U.S. adults, and 42 percent of adults ages 65 to 74, meet this recommendation, the researchers said.

In the new study, researchers analyzed information from nearly 140,000 U.S. adults in their 60s, 70s and 80s, and followed them for 13 years. The participants were asked how much time they spent exercising per week and which types of activity they engaged in.

The result showed that those who reported regular walking, but not enough to meet the exercise guidelines, were still less likely to die during the study period than those who didn't get any physical activity. Specifically, the researchers found that those who didn't get any exercise were 26 percent more likely to die during the study period, compared with those who walked for some amount of time that was less than 2 hours per week. [Extending Life: 7 Ways to Live Past 100]

The findings held even after the researchers took into account factors that could affect the link, such as smoking, obesity, chronic conditions (including diabetes) and time spent sitting down.

The finding suggests that doctors "should encourage patients to walk, even if less than the recommended amount, especially as they age, for health and longevity," the researchers wrote in today's (Oct. 19) issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. "Walking has been described as the 'perfect exercise' because it is a simple action that is free, convenient, does not require any special equipment or training, and can be done at any age," they wrote.

Many studies have found a link between physical activity and an increased life span, but relatively few studies have looked specifically at walking (separate from other types of exercise) as the new study does, the researchers said.

The study also found that walking for an amount of time that meets or exceeds physical activity guidelines was linked to even more benefits. Those who walked for 2.5 to 5 hours a week were 20 percent less likely to die from any cause, 30 percent less likely to die from respiratory disease and 9 percent less likely to die from cancer, during the study period, compared with those who walked for less than 2 hours a week.

"This study shows that engaging in walking is associated with increased longevity and has the potential to improve the public's health significantly," the researchers concluded.

Original article on Live Science.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.