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London School of Economics and Political Science

Clinical Articles, News & Views

Brisk walking best exercise for keeping weight down

People over the age of 50 and women of all ages are more likely to have a lower weight if they regularly engage in high impact walking, compared to doing another vigorous activity like going to the gym, according to a study recently released by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

Dr Grace Lordan, a specialist in health economics who led the research, examined reported physical activity levels from the annual Health Survey for England (HSE) from 1999 to 2012. In particular, she focused on activities which increased heart rate and caused perspiring. Individuals reported on the number of periods they engaged in 30 minutes or more of:

  • Walking at a fast or brisk pace.
  • Moderate-intensity sports or exercise, such as swimming, cycling, working out at the gym, dancing, running, football/rugby, badminton/tennis, squash, and exercises including press-ups and sit-ups.
  • Heavy housework, such as moving heavy furniture, walking with heavy shopping, scrubbing floors.
  • Heavy manual activities, such as digging, felling trees, chopping wood and moving heavy loads.

She then analysed nurse collected data on body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference (WC) measurements and found that men and women who regularly walked briskly for more than 30 minutes had lower BMIs and smaller waists than those who engaged in regular sports/exercise.

The article, due to be published in the journal Risk Analysis, explains that although the government recommends that adults should do 150 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity every week, there is no guidance as to which activity is the most effective. The authors estimated that almost 80% of the UK population is not meeting the government-specified targets. This costs the NHS almost £1 billion a year, with much of these costs being attributed to the effects of obesity.

The authors conclude by calling for a campaign to promote walking as a potentially effective way to tackle obesity rather than public health messages on healthy diets: “The results thus provide an argument for a campaign to promote walking…Focus on physical activity is less controversial as it would not be subject to political lobbying as is the case for ‘fat’ tax and other policies that aim to change consumption of junk foods in a person’s diet.”

They add: “Given the obesity epidemic and the fact that a large proportion of people in the UK are inactive, recommending that people walk briskly more often is a cheap and easy policy option. Additionally, there is no monetary cost to walking so it is very likely that the benefits will outweigh the costs. It has also been shown by the same authors that walking is associated with better physical and mental health. So, a simple policy that ‘every step counts’ may be a step towards curbing the upward trend in obesity rates and beneficial for other health conditions.”

Published on: November 24, 2015

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