Wonders of a 20 Minute Walk

Studies show walking can mean longer life even if you are overweight.


By Lani Muelrath


A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that each year, more deaths are influenced by a lack of physical activity in comparison to the number of deaths due to obesity.

As a matter of fact, researchers discovered that simply not getting enough exercise was the primary factor in twice the number of deaths compared to those deaths related to obesity.

The EPIC Study

This study analyzed data from 334,161 European men and women who participated in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Study. The results of the study revealed that even a modest increase in physical activity can deliver significant health benefits.

Analysis of the EPIC study results, designed to measure the link between physical inactivity, premature death, and its interaction with obesity over a twelve year period, showed that walking just twenty minutes a day reduced the risk of premature death by 16 to 30 percent in participants.

How Active is "Active"?

To obtain the study results, participants in the EPIC study reported their level of physical activity as either sedentary (e.g., office work), standing (e.g., hairdresser, grocery clerk), physical work (e.g., plumber, nurse), or heavy manual work (e.g., construction worker, bricklayer). Levels of activity were evaluated by combining activity at work – the kind of light activity similar to that expended with household chores – with recreational activity, such as physical exercises like cycling, jogging, and swimming. Subjects were classified as active, moderately active, moderately inactive, and inactive by combining their.occupational activity level with recreational activity.

Researchers discovered that the greatest reduction in risk of premature death occurred in the comparison between the inactive group and the moderately inactive group.

The authors concluded that participating in physical activity equivalent to twenty minutes of walking each day would jump an individual from the inactive to moderately inactive group.

How Does Your Weight Factor In?

Although the greatest health impact was detected among subjects of normal weight, even those participants with elevated body mass indexes experienced benefits.

Rating a BMI greater than thirty as obese, researchers estimated that 337,000 of the 9.2 million deaths among European women and men were attributable to obesity, yet double this number of deaths (676,000) could be attributed to physical inactivity.

Which Should Come First - Weight Loss or Exercise?

Does this mean we can forget about aspiring to an ideal weight? Does it mean that it doesn't matter if we are carrying a load of excess poundage, as long as we put one foot in front of another for a little over a quarter of an hour a day? The study says right off the bat in the opening lines:

"The higher risk of death resulting from excess adiposity may be attenuated by physical activity."

In other words, even if you are overweight you can have a positive impact on your personal longevity by making sure you get moderate exercise. This is not the same as suggesting that you forget about your weight so long as you move around. What it does tell us is that regular physical activity grants us measurable health benefits, regardless of our size. And it tells us not to wait until we lose that weight to get started and moving around more.

How to Apply The EPIC Study

With the aim of obtaining a minimum of twenty minutes or more a day of walking, simply start at your current level of fitness and work your way up.

  • Already in: If you are already easily achieving this amount of walking every day, keep up the good work!
  • Getting there: If you are getting twenty minute walks in two or three times a week, add a fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh. Aim for seven days of walking for twenty minutes a day. Then if for some reason you only get six days in, consider it a win.
  • Must get started: If you have been couch-bound and most of your waking hours are spent in inactivity or simply light activity, without any designated walk time, it's time to start nudging walk time in. You can start with five minutes a day. From there, you can build to ten, then fifteen, then twenty. Take two, three, or four weeks to build up to this minimum, depending on how challenging the shorter segments are for you.

Lani Muelrath, M.A., is an award-winning teacher, author, and top plant-based lifestyle coach. Certified Specialist in Behavior Change and Plant-Based Nutrition, Lani has been featured on CBS TV, ABC TV, Prevention, USA Today, and The Saturday Evening Post. Presenter for Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, Complete Health Improvement Program, and guest lecturer at San Francisco State University, Lani is Associate Faculty at Butte College where her book has been adopted as required text. She is the author of The Plant-Based Journey: A Step-by-Step Guide to Transition to a Healthy Lifestyle and Achieving Your Ideal Weight, recognized by VegNews as Top Media Pick for 2015, and Fit Quickies: 5 Minute Workouts. More from Lani at www.lanimuelrath.comFacebookTwitterInstagram.

Main Photo Credit:  Christian Mueller/; Second Photo Credit:  VTT Studio/; Third Photo Credit: Poprotskiy Alexey/; Fourth Photo Credit: Yulia Grigoryeva/