Health benefits of walking for people over age 50

Walking is healthy. It’s a fact, backed up by research and people who are in the habit of walking. What’s surprising is just how powerful a medicine a daily or near-daily walk can be. New studies find new benefits all the time: preventing heart disease and diabetes, relieving back pain, reducing anxiety, and improving quality of life.

“Walking is the single best exercise we can recommend on a large scale,” says Bob Sallis, MD, physician-spokesperson for Everybody Walk!, a national public health campaign created by Kaiser Permanente. “Exercise is like a medication we should be prescribing for our patients,” he says. “And the simplest exercise prescription is walking.”


Here are six new health benefits for regular walks:

1. A mere 15-minute walk after dinner lowers blood sugar

At George Washington University School of Public Health in Washington, D.C., researchers studied inactive men and women over 60. Their blood sugar was a little elevated (105 to 125 mg/dL), but they didn’t have diabetes (yet). Walking 15 minutes at a moderately brisk pace—a little under 3 miles an hour—helped control their after-dinner blood-sugar spike for the next three hours. The group that had after-dinner walks also had lower 24-hour blood sugar levels. “Walking burns up the sugar that’s in your blood, and it strengthens muscles so you use blood sugar more efficiently,” says Dr. Sallis. “It’s helps your insulin work better. The benefit is almost instantaneous.”

2. When it comes to your heart, walking is as good as running

walking_coupleWhen researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory looked at long-term studies of runners and walkers, they found a surprise: If you cover the same distance, the heart health benefits were about the same. Both walking and running led to similar reductions in high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and even coronary heart disease. “Walking has the same benefits as running—it just takes a little longer,” says Dr. Sallis.

3. Lower back pain? Walking’s as good as specialized rehab exercises

When you have lower back pain, it can help to strengthen your abdominal and back muscles. You can go a clinic to do back-strengthening exercises on special equipment under professional supervision. Or you can take a walk for 20 to 40 minutes, three times a week—it strengthens the same muscles. When Tel Aviv researchers studied 52 patients of varying ages with lower back pain, they asked half to do strengthening exercises, half to walk. After six weeks, both groups had improved equally—and the walkers were fitter and healthier. Every back pain patient is different, so by all means see your doctor, physical therapist, chiropractor, or masseuse. Just keep moving, too. “When you have back pain, bed rest beyond a day or two is counterproductive,” says Dr. Sallis. “Sometimes my patients have pain that’s so bad they can’t get out of bed, can’t walk. The sooner I can get them walking, the better they will be.”

4. Walking reduces anxiety, especially in women going through menopause

A regular walk is a reliable way to lower stress and anxiety and boost your mood. At Temple University, researchers studied 380 urban women over eight years as they went through menopause. Average age at study start: 42.The more they walked, the less stress, anxiety, and depression they experienced during and after menopause. The moderate group hoofed it for 40 minutes at four miles per hour, five days a week. The highest tier put in 90 minutes. “We’ve always assumed the biggest effect of walking was on the heart, but the most powerful effect turns out to be on the brain,” says Dr. Sallis. “When we walk, we’re less anxious, less stressed, and we feel better. For treatment of depression, a walking or biking program leads to lower remission rates than Prozac.”

5. For men over 55, the more daily steps, the better the quality of life

walking_shoesCanadian researchers gave pedometers to men over 55. The more steps, the better the physical and mental health, which added up to a better “quality of life” profile. The men averaged 8,539 steps a day—a little more than four miles. But even those who walked more moderate distances were healthier and felt better than those who walked fewer steps. “Small bouts of exercise are additive,” says Dr. Sallis. “Three 10-minute walks have the same health benefits of one 30-minute walk. The goal is to accumulate 150 minutes of moderate intensity walking a week, but you’re still getting benefits if you don’t achieve that.”

6. If you walk fast enough, you’ll never die

Well, not exactly. But the ability to walk at a moderate pace as you age is a good indicator of how long you’ll live. If you want to avoid the Grim Reaper, aim for a walking speed of at least 3 mph, found researchers at Concord Hospital in Sydney, Australia. They studied 1,705 men aged 70 or older for five years. Those who went on to pass away were slow walkers—averaging just 1.8 miles per hour. But among those who walked 3 miles an hour or faster, no one died. That’s walking a mile in about 20 minutes.


    1. Not sure where you got that from. The article says the faster you walk the better, but it doesn’t say slow walking doesn’t count. Any walking is better than none.

      1. You’really doing great Mary…it takes me 2hrs to walk 6mi and I’m 51. I’m on my 2nd kidney transplant and been on dialysis for 20 yrs. My feet, bones take a bit longer but that is a great pace.

    2. Hi, my name Kaure James I’m from republic of Kiribati. Iam 50yrs old..and I just start walking every afternoon 3per week. I feels better in my heavy breathing..

  1. I walk 3 mile a day on my treadmill 5 days a week feel great . 3 miles at 20 min a mile for a 1 hour workout.

  2. I’m 57 years old and I walk 8 miles a day,
    4 in the morning and 4 in the evening and a friend told me that I was walking too much but after reading this I am glad to see that I’m not

    1. Sir, you are walking too good for your age. Keep going and absolutely there won’t be any health issues. Iam 53 and a regular walker. I enjoy walking and never ever give a day off unless and until there is heavy rain, etc.

    2. I am former athlete 57yrs old, 73 kgs & I am also walking 15 kms average daily for 6 days a week. (Sunday complete rest)10 kms one strech in morning (90 mnts) & I do 10 mnts warm up & 10 mnts abs exercise & 10 mnts warm down with breathing exercise 5 mnts.. Everyone tells it’s more for my age. Any changes pl guide me too…

  3. After losing my parents and siblings at younger ages from weight problems drinking problems and a sedentary lifestyle. I’m the only one left and I’m a woman over 50. I walk 5-8 miles per day and work a full time job. I’ve went from a size 20 to a size 10. I’m healthy happy and better than I ever was in my younger years. I proved to myself first that it’s never too late to start taking care of yourself and your health. I’m looking forward to aging gracefully . I’m not taking meds for anything . My blood pressure and cholesterol are good and I did it by eating moderately and faithfully walking everyday naturally

    1. Wow I love this story. You are an inspiration. I hope to do the same. I‘m 51 and I don’t always “walk” but I never sit down and like yesterday in a normal day for me I got over 10,000 steps. So I guess that’s not bad. I could do better. I love that you are using your family’s health to do better. I’m the only person in my two brothers and parents that aren’t on BP or some kind of meds. I attribute it to daily green tea and staying active. Love to garden as well.

  4. I am 57 and I walk 15-20 kms every day ,meaning 7 days a week. People tell me that I walk too much .I walk in a stretch early Morning. Is that too much and not good for health ??

    1. I been walking about 3miles aday just started this week I had two heart attacks 6months ago I’m try feels so treid now sud I stop I dont know maybe because I just started two days ago I dont know I was always in shape before I dont know

  5. You might want to correct something in your article. The rest of it’s great. You mentioned that 8,539 steps is around 2 miles. That many steps would be a little more than four miles on average.

  6. Hi All,
    My name is Siva …hailing from Malaysia
    Im a 55 year old man…who does brisk walking 6 days a week…started in Mar 2020…around 7km a day…my average is now 9 m 50s per km…when i started in March my average was…11 m 20s per km
    Im 6’2″…was 90kg in March…now im 84kg…brisk walking is very effective

  7. Walking is an absolutely amazing exercise, and it is definitely something we all should do more of! Nothing replaces getting outside to walk, but on those days when the weather is uncooperative, a treadmill can be a great option.

  8. i am 51 yr old 5’7 was 95 in may lost 20 kg in 90 days just by walking 32 kms daily 4 hr 35-36000 steps i feel i am flying i enjoy my walking sometimes its pains in knees toes feet by i heal it my healing & curing positive mental affirmations is it gud for my future health i want my weight should b 55max

  9. I started walking 1/01/2020. Today is 9/14/2020 and I have gone from 261.3 to 159.2. When I first started I could barely walk a mile and it took about 18 minutes. Now I walk 8 miles per day. 5 miles in the morning and 3 miles in the evening. A mile now takes me around 12:30. I have cervical and spinal stenosis. The goal has been to lose weight and reduce pain. I still have neck and back pain but they have improved. My conditions are degenerative so i’m just trying to slow the progression. Getting pain relief without meds is my goal. I’m going to start seeing a chiropractor. Hopefully, that with walking and diet will work. So far, so good.

  10. You know I have been walking so long that the other day i realized I walk over 8 miles! I You Know you dont have to do it at the same time either.2 or 3 miles there and and another 2 or 3 here. Its different now that it is dark earlier but you can feel it for yourself. Keep it up!

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