Walking beats gym membership in keeping slim

A new study from Dr Grace Lordan of London School of Economics shows brisk walking more effective in keeping slim than other options, including the gym, especially for the over 50s.

It seems the latest research may disappoint gyms looking to grow their membership as we all make our new years resolutions to get and stay slim.

Dr Grace Lordan, a specialist in health economics at London School of Economics and Political Science who led the research, was analysing the data collected in the annual Health Survey for England from 1999 to 2012. She compared people who regularly took part in different activities such as:

  • 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, scrubbing floors
  • Heavy manual activities, such as digging, felling trees, chopping wood and moving heavy loads

By comparing the average BMI (body mass index) of people who took part in at least 30 minutes of these activities, the research concluded that those who walked were most likely to have a lower BMI and smaller waist measurement than the other groups, and those that did not take part in any regular activity at all.

The study also showed that to get the most benefit from your chosen form of exercise, you had to do it regularly - generally more than 20 times per month. Walking is easily accessible and much cheaper compared to most other activities so that everyone, no matter what their income, was able to take part.

The paper also noted that "it is the older [group] for which activity level most greatly predicts both BMI and [waist size]". For those over 50, regular walkers were considerably slimmer than the non-walking counterparts.

The research went on to say:

“The results thus provide an argument for a campaign to promote walking. Focus on physical activity is less controversial as it would not be subject to political lobbying as is the case for “fat” tax and other policies that aim to change consumption of junk foods in a person’s diet.

Given the obesity epidemic and the fact that a large proportion of people in the UK are inactive, 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. It has also been shown by the same authors that walking is associated with better physical and mental health. So, a simple policy that “every step counts” may be a step towards curbing the upward trend in obesity rates and beneficial for other health conditions.”

This is why it's being studied by the LSE. The approximate cost to the NHS of the effects of obesity is almost £1 billion a year. Campaigns to encourage people to eat better have to compete with diet advice from the sensible to the extreme, while encouraging everyone to walk more is simple, straightforward and free.


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