heart disease

Walking Lowers Risk of Heart Disease, Stroke, Depression

A new study finds that individuals who joined walking groups reaped health benefits that could reduce their risk of several life-threating conditions such as stroke, heart disease, and depression.

In an analysis of 42 studies, a group led by researchers from Norwich Medical School at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom found that participants who joined walking groups saw considerable reductions in their blood pressure, body fat, body mass index (BMI), resting heart rate, and total cholesterol, in addition to demonstrating increased lung power and general fitness, and lower depression levels.
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In analyzing data of 1,843 participants from more than 14 countries—some of whom were obese, had type 2 diabetes, heart disease, fibromyalgia, or Parkinson’s disease—investigators assessed patients’ health at study baseline. The researchers evaluated the health effects of regular group walking among those who had joined such groups, typically taking short walks under 1 hour in outside environments on a consistent basis.

The team, led by Sarah Hanson, a research student and PhD candidate at the University of Anglia, notes that approximately 75% of the participants adhered to group walking on a regular basis, which suggests that others would be likely to stay with this type of physical activity.

The findings should also provide primary care practitioners with “evidence of a further effective option to recommend to those patients who would benefit from increasing moderate activity,” says Hanson.

Walking groups seem to an acceptable and cost-effective intervention for patients, with virtually no side effects, she says.

“My experience is that people walk faster and further when they belong to a group, and they keep coming back because of their involvement with the group,” says Hanson. “As telling people to be more active doesn’t [necessarily] work, this gives another proven method to try.”

—Mark McGraw

Reference

Hanson S, Jones A, et al. Is there evidence that walking groups have health benefits? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2015.