It’s called the passeggiata, which means a short walk, typically taken after meals, purely for pleasure.
Italians don’t change into workout clothes or don their Fitbits for this tradition. They do it purely for enjoyment. If you are looking to lose or maintain weight and ward off health issues, but don’t want to hit the gym or complete high-intensity workouts, these short, 15-minute walks are mighty effective.
The research benefits of walking are not new; a 2015 study found that older adults at risk for diabetes improved their ability to regulate blood sugar for 24 hours after taking three 15-minute walks after meals, similar in effectiveness to one long 45-minute walk per day.
And a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggests walking even less than the recommended amounts can reduce your risk of early death.
The recommended amounts are about two and a half hours (150 minutes) of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week. In this study, researchers, led by Alpa Patel, a cancer epidemiologist from the American Cancer Society, examined data from 140,000 American adults. Of the participants, 95% said they did some walking, and nearly half said walking was their only form of exercise.
After adjusting for risk factors like smoking, obesity and chronic health issues, the researchers found that people whose only form of physical activity was walking less than two hours per week had a lower risk of early death from any cause than those who didn’t do any exercise.
Those who walked as their only form of exercise for 2.5 – 5 hours per week had a 20 percent lower risk of early death. A reduced risk of death from respiratory diseases was most strongly associated with walking, and those who walked more than six hours a week had about a 35 percent lower risk for early death than those who were mostly inactive.
Early deaths from heart disease and cancer were also lowered with walking by 20 percent and 9 percent, respectively.
While the results did not prove a direct cause-and-effect relationship, they did show the association between moderate exercise and longevity, says Dr. Jacqueline Brom, a family medicine physician with Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.
“Moderate exercise, like walking, has been shown to reduce the risk of many health issues such as heart disease, stroke, certain types of cancer and diabetes, and this study further reinforces that importance,” says Dr. Brom. “In addition to walking or other forms of cardiovascular exercise, I also recommend that my patients do some sort of strength training two days a week to help retain muscle mass, which decreases as we get older.”
Trying to help your heart? Take a free, quick online assessment to learn more about your risk for heart disease by clicking here.