Exercise: A Walk in the Park?


In this issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings,1 Nemoto et al address the benefits of walking regimens and in so doing reflect a broad movement in the exercise literature and the health intervention community. Emphasis is moving away from in-termittent sweat-drenched bouts of arduous exercise to more frequent walking, whether in the park, at work, or at home.

Over the past 50 years, the core messages of publications in exercise physiology have evolved similarly to those of other societal movements. Two generations ago, the notion that people would pay thousands of dollars or Euros each year to sweat and feel the pain of extreme physical exertion would have been viewed as untenable. However, the exercise movement emerged, and scientists and celebrities ran hand in hand to the gymnasium. During this time, the message conveyed by exercise literature was “more is better.” The oft-quoted surgeon general's report2 well summarizes the notion that more exercise of greater intensity promises more health of greater duration. The heated debates as to whether aerobic exercise has more health benefits than strength training3 have quieted with the growing recognition that all exercise is good, and more of it is better.4

It is interesting that the exercise movement evolved similarly to other emotional societal movements such as those addressing racial intolerance5, 6 and homosexual discrimination.7 In those movements too, initial vehement cries for action and debate among the scientific, intellectual, and political communities as to how best to proceed gave way to consensus and action.8

Nemoto et al report that walking training in middle-aged and older people bestows health benefits that are akin to those provided by a gymnasium exercise program. This article is 1 of many that speak to the health benefits associated with walking, whether the outcome measurement is blood pressure,9 as in this article, diabetes,10 other metabolic disorders,11 cardiovascular disease,12 joint problems, or mental health (Figure 1).13 Collectively, these data suggest that, regardless of the study population, walking improves health. This information complements physiological studies that document the role played by inactivity or sedentariness in poor health14 and in the pathogenesis of obesity.15, 16, 17 The growing body of scientific information regarding the health benefits of walking18 and of reversing sedentariness is mirrored by a growing public interest in walking as a means of exercise and health.

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James A. Levine