Walking back to happiness

Posted on October 29, 2015 by Eleanor McKenzie
Mature couple walking dog in the countryside

In October, thousands of people from around Europe flock to Marbella to take the challenge of walking 20–30km every day for four days.  It’s a way of exploring the areas around Marbella, making new friends and all while having a very healthy holiday. Participants who complete 80km over the four days do actually get a medal, and they will deserve it in my opinion.

The aforementioned British Journal of Sports Medicine stated that 30 minutes of physical activity on six days of the week, “irrespective of its intensity” is linked to a 40% lower risk of death in elderly men, according to Mature Times. The research, which was also published in the British Medical Journal, claims that the impact of this amount of physical activity on your health is similar to giving up smoking.

The researchers used the results of the Oslo Study as the basis of the findings. This study invited 26,000 men who were born between 1923 and 1932 to have a medical examination in 1972-3. This is known as the Oslo 1 study. Fifteen thousand of the men agreed to be assessed for height, weight, cholesterol and blood pressure and were asked whether or not they smoked. They also answered a questionnaire about their leisure time and physical activity levels.

In 2000, some 6,000 of the men who were still alive were assessed again in the study known as Oslo II. These men were then monitored over the next 12 years to see if there was a relationship between physical activity levels and lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease or other cause and, importantly, if exercise had the same impact as quitting smoking.

The results showed that less than one hour per week of light exercise has little beneficial effect, but more than an hour per week reduces risk by 32% – 56%. When all the factors were taken into account, the researchers concluded that 30 minutes on six days would bring about 40% reduction in risk.


Family Walk

A case in point

Walking is an excellent way to add this exercise to your daily routine. Mature Times relates the story of Cambridge history don, Professor John Morrill (age 69), who gave up exercising when he retired. Until a health scare made him rethink his lack of activity. John developed Deep Vein Thrombosis and blood pressure problems during his 60s and after his GP advised him that exercise might help, so he took up swimming and going to the gym, but it wasn’t long before they bored him. Then John tried walking and loves it.

John walks daily now, his blood pressure has fallen and the swelling in his legs has gone down. Plus, it has added a new interest to his retirement.

John has joined a UK organisation called Living Streets that exists to encourage us all to get out and walk more. As it says, it wants “people of all generations to enjoy the benefits that this simple act brings, on streets fit for walking.” If you’re a passionate walker and would like to join a nationwide community that campaigns for better walking conditions, you might say, then this is the place to be. Its initiatives cover everything from street design and management, to walking safety, road speed limits and a variety of ways to create a healthier nation. That includes getting children and office workers to walk more. Going by the results of the study, the more often people walk from an early age, the less likely we are as a nation to have health problems in later life.

John enjoys the time by himself that walking gives him, but if you don’t feel motivated to walk alone, there are two ways to solve that problem. One is get a dog. Certainly, dog owners have a ready-made exercise routine that they take part in every day. When I used to provide a “doggy holiday care” service at one time, I was getting exercise without even having to think about it, and I must admit that two weeks over Christmas with a golden retriever kept the weight off.

However, having a pet is not always an option, so my second suggestion is find a walking companion. This is a lovely way to spend social time with a friend and you can get healthy together. And, one last thought on this topic: life isn’t always a walk in the park, but a walk in the park can give you a healthier life!

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.