Benefits of Walking on Mortality

Low intensity physical activity, such as walking, is relatively unaddressed as a factor in affecting health or longevity. The authors studied 707 nonsmoking retired men aged 61-81 who had been enrolled in the Honolulu Heart Program during 1980-1982 and followed data on all-cause mortality for 12 years.

Men were asked about their average walking distance per day, as well as about other energy-requiring activities, such as light carpentry, gardening, or shoveling. Only men capable of participating in low-intensity activity were included in the analysis.

Men who walked, on average, more than two miles daily enjoyed almost a halving of mortality rate compared to those who walked less than one mile. Overall, distance walked daily correlated inversely with mortality. Adding one mile per day to distance walked was associated with a 19% reduction in risk of death.

Since the study is an observational one, cause and effect is uncertain. Additionally, selection bias may have been incurred in that less fit men may not have survived, leaving the more fit study participants for evaluation. Nonetheless, the results are consistent with other studies and encourage clinicians to support such low intensity activities for their elderly patients.

Hakim AA, et al. N Engl J Med 1998; 338:94-99.