Adding more movement to your daily life can be simple and enjoyable — and can extend your life expectancy. Walking is one of the most accessible forms of exercise and it’s great for your health, whether you’re a novice or a pro. What’s more, recent research shows walking briskly for short periods of time can help you maintain or improve your walking ability and prevent disability later in life.
A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found older adults who were experiencing joint symptoms from lower extremity osteoarthritis who walked for 55 minutes per week (less than 10 minutes per day) at a moderate-to-vigorous pace were more likely to remain disability-free over a 4-year period compared to people who were more sedentary. Sedentary folks were more likely to develop mobility issues (such as walking at such a slow pace that it wouldn’t be safe to cross the street), which would make it difficult for them to continue living independently.
“Walking helps to maintain muscle strength and control weight, which are both paramount to keeping joints as healthy as possible,” says Dr. Lara Morgan Oberle, assistant professor of clinical orthopedic surgery at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles. “It is extremely important for everyone, including people with osteoarthritis, to keep moving.”
Fifty-five minutes of brisk walking per week, or less than 10 minutes per day, is significantly less exercise than the recommended 150 minutes per week of physical activity, yet this much walking had a positive effect on study participants who experienced osteoarthritis symptoms. If you’re unable to walk for longer periods of time, this knowledge may be encouraging.
“The thing to remember about exercise and physical activity is that some is better than none and more is better than some,” says Melissa Morris, an American College of Sports Medicine certified exercise physiologist and professor of health sciences and human performance at the University of Tampa. “Any amount that an individual can do, even 10 minutes, is better than not doing any at all.”
Once you’re able to walk briskly for 10 minutes, you can work to increase the length of your walks so you can benefit from the additional physical activity. “You can try adding 5–10 minutes a week by listening to your body and progressing accordingly,” says Morris.
Or, if you don’t feel comfortable walking much more than 10 or 15 minutes at a time, consider walking that amount twice or more per day to increase your daily total.
“Any effort done in small increments over a longer period of time yields a bigger result than large increments done over a shorter time period,” says Katrina Pilkington, a Las Vegas-based National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer. “I encourage anyone with osteoarthritis to realize that any amount of physical activity they are performing in their day — no matter how small — is a win. If they are consistent with their exercises and continue to train smart, their slow movements may start to accelerate.”
You’ll do much more than maintain your disability-free status when you walk regularly. “Walking is a great weight-bearing activity that’s low-impact,” says Morris. “It can strengthen lower body muscles, strengthen bones and improve cardio-respiratory health.”
When you begin taking longer walks, you may notice other improvements, too. “Exercise for longer [periods of time] has other benefits outside of maintaining physical status and independence, such as improved mood and other positive mental health changes,” says Oberle.
“Based on these study findings, it may be possible for someone with osteoarthritis to maintain their mobility at just 10 minutes of activity per day; however, each individual is different,” says Oberle. It’s important to make changes in walking intensity and duration gradually, especially if you’ve been sedentary or have osteoarthritis or other health issues. When in doubt “reach out to a medical provider for individualized evaluation and guidance.”