A look at the science behind brisk walking and jogging

It would not be surprising if the next time you visit your doctor they hand you a prescription recommending brisk walking or jogging.

It’s true that walking, which you have been doing since you were a toddler, is now seen as a miracle drug.

Everybody probably knows physical activity can do wonders for physical and mental health. Brisk walking, however, offers several benefits. This is something you may not have realized if you haven’t tapped the power of this simple yet effective strategy.

What are some of the benefits of walking and running 

Brisk walking is defined as approximately walking 100 steps per minute. However, this depends on your level of fitness.

If you have been leading a sedentary lifestyle and want to start your journey to physical fitness, you can begin by taking fewer steps per minute for your 10-15-minute daily walk. Meanwhile, running is good for your health too.

Boosts immune system 

A study [1] published in the Brain, Behavior, and Immunity journal examined the effects of walking for 20 minutes at moderate intensity on the immune system of more than 1000 participants. Findings revealed that those who walked for 20 minutes five days a week were less likely to get sick than those who exercised only once a week.

Those who exercised five times a week were 43% less likely to get sick. However, when they get sick, it is only for a few days compared to those who exercise once a week. 

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Interestingly, the study authors found that even just one session of 20-minute moderate-intensity walking can produce an anti-inflammatory response. These findings have important implications for people with long-term diseases such as fibromyalgia and arthritis, and obesity. 

A look at the science behind brisk walking and jogging

One of the senior study authors, Suzi Hong, PhD from the University of California’s San Diego School of Medicine’s Department of Family Medicine and Public Health, stated that “each time we exercise, we are truly doing something good for our body on so many levels, including the immune cell level. The anti-inflammatory benefits of exercise have been known to researchers, but discovering how that process happens is the key to safely maximizing those benefits.” 

The sufficient amount of exercise that elicits an anti-inflammatory response is about twenty minutes to half an hour of moderate exercise. This includes brisk walking.

The study suggests that exercise or workout sessions do not need to be intense to generate anti-inflammatory effects. These findings are good news for people with long-term conditions who may view workout sessions as too strenuous or intimidating.

Educating people with long-term conditions such as arthritis and informing them that walking briskly for 20 minutes to 30 minutes could help lessen symptoms of their disease could increase uptake of walking exercise. 

Hong stated that it is always best to consult their doctors regarding the appropriate treatment plan for patients with chronic conditions wanting to engage in walking exercises. However, it is exciting to note that exercise has anti-inflammatory effects and is a simple and highly accessible strategy for easing symptoms of long-term conditions. 

A systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Sports Medicine journal [2] pooled data from 556 487 individuals who engaged in walking, running or cycling aerobic exercise reported that higher levels of regular and habitual exercise resulted in a 31% risk reduction of community-acquired infections. These infections include community-acquired pneumonia. In comparison to those who do not exercise, regular walking, running, and cycling can boost the immune system and reduce the risk of getting infections by 31%.

The same study also reported that exercise increased antibodies and CD4 helper T cells, essential in boosting your immune system and protecting you from infections. CD4 helper T cells and antibodies are the first lines of defence of the immune system. Interestingly, the meta-analysis found that an exercise programme boosts antibody concentration following vaccination. Hence, regular and habitual physical exercise can enhance the first line of defence against infections, lower the risk of community-acquired infections and mortality from infectious diseases, and increase the potency of vaccines. 

Increased longevity 

Marathoners are a breed on their own. These long-distance, high-performance runners reap the many health benefits of running. However, those who run leisurely for as low as 5-10 minutes a day can increase their longevity for many years compared to those who do not run at all. A study [3] published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology examined data from more than 55,000 men and women aged 18 to 100. About 25% of these participants were runners. Using 15-year data from this group, the investigators found out that people who ran for 50 minutes a week or five minutes a day for five days or more every week were less likely to die from any cause of cardiovascular diseases than those who did not run at all. 

The study suggests that as little as five minutes a day could reap the rewards for your health. However, one of the study authors, Dr Braggish, advises that “a little bit is good, but a little bit more is probably better.” To maximize longevity, a previous study published in Denmark [4] suggests that running for 2.5 hours or 150 minutes a week would promote optimal health. You must run at low to moderate intensity for 30 minutes daily, five days a week, to maximize your longevity

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While the study pointed out several benefits of running, the study authors warned that while running reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases or mortality due to these diseases, it does not eliminate these diseases. Instead, a combination of genetics, family history, and lifestyle still contribute to your lifetime risk of getting heart disease. 

Dr. Braggish also reiterates that there is a need for a recovery period following active runs. Active recovery periods allow the body to heal and prevent sprains and strains. 

Improved mental health 

Both walking and running have been shown to improve mental health. In a study [5] published in the Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine journal, results showed that among older adults aged 65 and older, engaging in moderate to vigorous leisure walking resulted in higher mental health and higher health perceptions than their sedentary counterparts. The study authors reviewed data from 4,747 adults from the 2017 California Health and Interview Survey. 

A look at the science behind brisk walking and jogging

The World Health Organization has stated that walking is the most cost-effective therapeutic exercise in improving both the physical and mental health of older adults since this does not require specific skills or training. In a systematic review [6], leisure walking in adults aged 18 and older improved mental health. Improvements in mental health are seen in all ages for adults, demonstrating that leisure walking of moderate to vigorous intensity could help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. 

Reduces risk of breast cancer 

A study sponsored by the American Cancer Society reported that walking for one hour a day seven days or seven hours a week or more reduces breast cancer risk by 14% compared to fewer hours of walking exercise a week. Notably, walking protected women with breast cancer risk factors, such as using supplemental hormones and being overweight

Eases joint pain 

Walking has been shown to protect the knee and hip joints. They are the most susceptible to the development of osteoarthritis.

Walking can strengthen the muscles and ligaments that support the joints and lubricate them. Recent studies suggest that walking for five to six miles a week would be sufficient to prevent arthritis. 

It helps curb cravings for sweet foods. 

Sugary foods such as donuts and chocolates have been shown to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes when eaten regularly for long periods. Besides sugary foods, cola drinks also increase the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. However, regular walking exercise can help tame the sweet tooth. Recent studies suggest that walking for 15 minutes daily could help curb cravings for sugary foods such as chocolates. Further, these studies revealed that even in stressful situations, the desire to eat chocolates is reduced when individuals engage in daily 15-minute walks. 

The science behind brisk walking and jogging shows that these activities boost the immune system by increasing anti-inflammatory cells in the body, thereby reducing the risk of long-term conditions. It also boosts immune function by increasing the release of antibodies and first-line immune system cells to guard against infections. It also promotes better cardiovascular health. In addition, it releases neurotransmitters and hormones that boost mood, reducing depression, anxiety and stress. 

You can start reaping the benefits of brisk walking and jogging by starting small. You can take baby steps by taking a five-minute brisk walk daily, which is sufficient to promote longevity and reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Then, gradually increase this to 10- to 15 minutes walk a day. You can translate these walks to moderate-intensity or leisure jogs for 30 minutes as soon as you gain physical fitness and endurance. 

It is always best to consult your doctor to help plan your brisk walking and jogging exercises. You can also run on nature trails to help boost mental health. 

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[1] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0889159116305645
[2] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-021-01466-1 
[3] https://www.jacc.org/doi/10.1016/j.jacc.2014.04.058?articleID=1891600 
[4] https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/177/7/683/91486 
[5] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2333721421999316#bibr41-2333721421999316
[6] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28427376/ 

Photograph: DragonImages/Envato
The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.