That evening stroll you take after dinner most nights may be doing you more good than you realize -- new research suggests even a bit of regular walking can reduce your risk of death.
"Walking has been described as the 'perfect exercise' because it is simple, free, convenient, doesn't require any special equipment or training, and can be done at any age," said study leader Alpa Patel, a cancer epidemiologist from the American Cancer Society.
"With the near doubling of adults aged 65 and older expected by 2030, clinicians should encourage patients to walk even if less than the recommended amount, especially as they age, for health and longevity," Patel said in a society news release.
Previous research has linked regular walking with a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and breast and colon cancers. However, many American adults don't get the recommended levels of walking or other types of exercise. The recommended amounts are at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity a week.
In this study, researchers examined data from nearly 140,000 American adults. Of those, 95 percent said they did some walking. Nearly half said walking was their only form of moderate-vigorous physical activity.
The researchers adjusted the data to account for other factors that could affect the risk of death, such as smoking, obesity and chronic health problems.
After those adjustments, the researchers concluded that people whose only exercise was walking less than two hours per week had a lower risk of death from any cause than those who did no physical activity.
Those who did one to two times the minimum amount of recommended weekly exercise (2.5 to 5 hours) by only walking had a 20 percent lower risk of death. The risk of death was similar among those who exceeded activity recommendations through only walking.
Walking was most strongly associated with reduced risk of death from respiratory diseases -- about a 35 percent lower risk for those who walked more than six hours a week than those who were least active.
Walking was also associated with about 20 percent lower risk of death from heart disease. People who only walked also had a 9 percent lower risk of death from cancer, the study authors said.
However, none of the results proved a direct cause-and-effect relationship. The study was only designed to show associations.
The findings were published online Oct. 19 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.