Best Exercise for Weight Control May Be Cheap and Easy

Photo (cc) by Moyan_Brenn

Forget expensive gym memberships and intense workouts: A pair of walking shoes is all it takes to keep your weight and waist in check, new research shows.

People who regularly walk briskly for more than 30 minutes had lower body mass index (BMI) scores and smaller waist circumferences than people who regularly do other types of exercise or sports, according to a study to be published in the international peer-reviewed journal Risk Analysis.

The results were particularly pronounced in:

  • Women.
  • People over age 50.
  • People on low incomes.

BMI scores are a measure of weight that also incorporates height.

The research was led by assistant professor Grace Lordan, who specializes in health economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science, a school of the University of London.

She analyzed data on physical activity levels from annual national English surveys from 1999 to 2012, focusing on activities that increase heart rate and cause perspiration, and analyzed data on BMI scores and waist circumference.

Survey participants had reported information on how frequently they engaged in at least 30 minutes of:

  • Walking at a fast or brisk pace.
  • Moderate-intensity sports or exercise, such as swimming, cycling, working out at the gym, dancing, running, football/rugby, badminton/tennis, squash, and exercises including press-ups and sit-ups.
  • Heavy housework, such as moving heavy furniture, walking with heavy shopping and scrubbing floors.
  • Heavy manual activities, such as digging, felling trees, chopping wood and moving heavy loads.

The study argues that public policies promoting more walking, rather than more healthy diets, could be a less controversial yet effective way to combat obesity:

“Recommending that people walk briskly more often is a cheap and easy policy option. Additionally, there is no monetary cost to walking, so it is very likely that the benefits will outweigh the costs.”

Lordan co-authored the study with Debayan Pakrashi, who is currently an assistant professor of economics at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur.

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