Scientific Nutrition Update 20: Go for a Walk, Even if it’s just for 1 Minute and 40 Seconds

This episode is all about the health benefits of walking, and quite frankly they took my breath away.  This is such a small intervention for frankly huge health outcomes.  Walk and walk now.  Like seriously.  One of the easiest things you can do.  Hat tip to Dr. William Lagakos Ph. D who started me down this research rabbit hole.  Check out his site here.



For today’s episode we are going to talk about walking.  First things first shoutout to Dr. Bill Lagakos who started me down this research rabbit hole.  Secondly, before I begin this I need to expose my bias. I love walking. I have always been awful at meditation despite repeated attempts, but I have found walking to be one of my most personally useful tools for clearing my thoughts and maintaining a positive mental outlook.


So besides the obvious benefits of going for a walk on my own mental clarity, and since this site does have Scientific in its name you may be wondering what the literature says:


Let’s start with how much walking seems to be enough to make a significant difference in our health.  These seems like a weird questions, but there is a concept called the minimum effective dose which basically tells us at one point a certain activity becomes useful.  In this case there was a study done that suggested as small as 15 minutes of walking was enough to reduce mortality by about 14%. However, I am always hesitant to over-interpret results like this because there is always a good chance that this result could be because people who are likely to be walking everyday are also likely making other healthful choices in their lives. So it is a little bit tricky to say for sure that the effect is due to the walking.


There was a study done that I saw Dr. Lagakos reference and I’ll discuss it briefly, but the conditions it tested under feel kinda unrealistic to me.  In it both healthy people and those with Type 1 Diabetes were placed in a ward and had to walk for approximately 6 hours per day at about 1.2 mph. This seems to me to be two things, 1. Too long, and 2. Too slow.  The only situation where I can imagine real life mimicking this, would be using something like a treadmill desk, but even still this feels too slow for even that. However, in both cases healthy people and those with type 1 diabetes there was a huge reduction in post meal glucose, suggesting hey maybe we should all get treadmill desks.  Which actually seems like it might not be the worst idea now that I think about it…


The thing is though that is a lot of time to spend walking, and so my curiosity made me start to wonder whether short time periods would still show significant changes.  There was an interesting, but small, 21 subject, study done that used two different interventions either a 30 min walk five days a week or 3 ten minute walks five days a week.  What was found was that both interventions improved lipid profiles, showed significant reduction in skin fold measurements, and showed a significant decrease in tension and a significant increase in VO2Max.  So it seems much smaller interventions can still have pretty significant health effects.


Many us of spend way too much each time each day sitting, often staring at our computers, some of us desperately trying to write scripts and come up with podcast ideas.  There was an interesting study done that compared three different groups, one was just 9 hours of sitting, the other 30 minutes of walking followed by 9 hours of sitting, and finally walking for 1 minute and 40 seconds out of every 30 minutes.  What they found is that there was a significant reduction in plasma insulin for the regular breaks compared to both the continual sitting and the exercise and then sitting. The exercise and then sitting was also better than just sitting, but the biggest gains came from the frequent short breaks.  So maybe today when you are sitting at your desk, try something like the pomodoro technique, which is 25 minutes of work followed by a 5 minute break, and do a lap around your building during your five minute break. It could save your health.


No matter how much time you can find to do it, walking seems to be an incredibly effective intervention for your health.  Even just a couple minutes per hour can make a huge difference.


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