A Study Published In 2017 Suggests That Walking More Each Day May Help People Live Longer

The manner with which people live their lives varies greatly from place to place. But there are specific areas of the world where inhabitants often live to see beyond their centennial birthdays. Such a feat is considered relatively rare in most societies – so what specifically makes these exceptions so different?

Well, that’s the question that certain scientists have been trying to answer. And based on information acquired from a number of different studies, a number of possibilities have emerged. But broadly speaking, it seems that those who live longer than most tend be less likely to contract otherwise prevalent conditions such as diabetes or cancer.

However, there are only a few areas in the world that display an exceptionally healthy populace. But after some investigating, the American Cancer Society (A.C.S.) believes it may have found a common trait binding these communities. And the best part is that these people’s secret isn’t esoteric. Rather, it’s something the rest of the world can embrace.

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The areas of longevity in question are called Blue Zones, according to writer and explorer Dan Buettner. He first termed them as such in 2005, when he wrote a story for National Geographic. It’s called “The Secrets of a Long Life,” and the zones described within have since attracted some attention.

Within Buettner’s Blue Zones, locals are said to more frequently live to over 100 years of age than in other places. In addition, they maintain a high level of well-being and, in many cases, manage to avoid health disorders and diseases. Buettner has suggested five Blue Zones across the world. These are found in Sardinia, Japan, Costa Rica, Greece and California.

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According to some researchers, Sardinia in Italy is officially “the place where people live the longest in the world.” Indeed, between the years 1996 to 2016, a village there called Seulo housed 20 people aged 100 or above. Apparently, the mountain areas of Sardinia have the highest volume of male centennial inhabitants on the planet.

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The Okinawa islands in Japan also reportedly play host to particularly healthy senior individuals. In fact, contrary to Sardinia, Okinawa has the longest-living female citizens. Studies have attributed part of that to the local cuisine, which has recently sparked interest from the western world. For example, it’s inspired the Okinawa diet aimed at losing weight.

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The Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica has the second-highest number of males living to be 100 or over. Not only that, but it’s also where deaths of middle-aged people are thought to be at their lowest, too. A possible reason for these figures could be attributed to the nature of the community there. Indeed, the locals seem to thrive on strong social connections.

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Speaking of middle-aged health, Ikaria island in Greece boasts some impressively low mortality rates for that age bracket. And as with Okinawa, the local diet has drawn attention from other cultures. Indeed, the eating habits of those living in Ikaria is representative of a vegetable and fruit-centric Mediterranean diet.

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The last Blue Zone is actually in the U.S.A., specifically in Loma Linda, California. It’s home to the country’s largest quantity of Seventh-day Adventists. These people’s religion-based diet is apparently one factor adding an extra decade onto many of the order’s lifespans. But how does the rest of the U.S.A. compare?

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According to the C.D.C.’s National Center for Health Statistics, the mortality rate of American citizens fell in both 2017 and 2018. It’s raised slightly in 2019, but the average lifespan is still under 79 years of age. That’s lower than the U.K., France, Mexico and Canada, to name just a few.

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When you compare this with the potentially 100-plus years of life expectancy for some Blue Zone citizens, it’s a drastic difference. Consequently, there are people in other parts of the world who want to replicate the healthy Blue Zone lifestyle. Buettner has even written a book on the subject called The Blue Zones Solution.

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Elsewhere, Dr. Alpa Patel is one researchers who has shown a particular interest in the aging process. During her education, Patel earned a fellowship with the American College of Sports Medicine. She specializes in epidemiology relating to physical activity and exercise – with a specific focus on its impact on cancer.

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Patel eventually started working at the A.C.S., where she has heavily shaped its Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines. And she’s currently the Cancer Prevention Study-3’s (CPS-3’s) principal investigator for the entire project. Basically, that means Patel oversees and guides the study teams, directing them to areas of research that might prove beneficial.

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To that end, Patel looks for any subjects that could potentially help in the battle against cancer. “At the American Cancer Society,” the A.C.S. website states, “we’re on a mission to free the world from cancer. Until we do, we’ll be funding and conducting research, sharing expert information, supporting patients, and spreading the word about prevention.”

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In this vein, Patel directed an American Cancer Society study which ultimately attempted to zero in on factors that might lead to a longer lifespan. And in October 2017 the results of this study were published on Cancer.org. And they seemed to point to one clear disease-reducing habit to help extend a person’s life.

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But first things first, where did Patel and her team begin? Well, A.C.S. had already conducted research into the long-term wellness of Americans back in 1982. This research, entitled “The Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS-II),” is said to have involved roughly 1.2 million citizens of the U.S. And it included people from every state, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

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Subjects of the study provided comprehensive information about their lifestyle and medical history to assist A.C.S. in its assessments. These notes included everything from physical attributes like height and weight, eating patterns, smoking and drinking habits and exercise routines. A.C.S. then performed a subsequent review when subjects passed away.

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The idea was to monitor the mortality rates of subjects. Furthermore, A.C.S. looked at additional factors during its mortality reviews in 1992 and 1993. It subsequently performed extra investigations into nutritional changes and occurrences of cancer. A.C.S. even looks at DNA samples from participants these days, too.

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According to the A.C.S. website, the group will continue CPS-II reviews for the foreseeable future, but the findings have already proven illuminating. Just between the years 1992 and 2005 the group observed almost 30,000 cases of cancer in subjects. However, its work also pulled up some patterns that could help people avoid the disease in the future.

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With that in mind, the American Journal of Preventive Medicine has published some research called “Walking in Relation to Mortality in a Large Prospective Cohort of Older U.S. Adults.” This includes research results and an overview of the methodology in 2018. But how does all this link to Blue Zones?

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Well, although we mentioned that diet plays an important part in Blue Zone inhabitants’ healthy aging, there are other contributing factors, too. For instance, exercise and the active lifestyle that locals lead on a daily basis is a noteworthy consideration. And the A.C.S. aren’t the only organization to notice this connection, as the American College of Sports Medicine (A.C.S.M.) has proven.

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The journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise published an A.C.S.M. study called “Physical Activity in an Old Order Amish Community” in 2004. Because the Amish live apart from a lot of conveniences we take for granted, they live more active lives. The research set out to study how that affects their senior members.

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A.C.S.M. gave pedometers to 98 Amish people from the ages of 18 to 75 to monitor their daily schedule. The results showed that male Amish walked 18,425 steps a day on average, and women around 14,196. In addition, it was suggested that Amish communities had the lowest obesity numbers in North America.

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When the results of this study were revealed, a physical activity regime was sparked among the general public. People wanted to replicate the average amount of Amish exercise by walking 10,000 steps or more every single day. And on top of that, the A.C.S. study also revealed similar health incentives for frequent walking.

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Patel’s team studied the effects of physical exercise on 77,077 women and 62,178 men aged around 70 on average. They started the test in 1999 and performed a follow-up in 2012, by which time 43,621 participants had passed away. However, what the study revealed is promising for future generations of seniors.

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The A.C.S. findings highlighted how the seniors that walked less were in more danger of developing certain health problems. First and foremost, walking reduced the likelihood of breathing conditions, but that’s not all. Frequent walkers also decreased their chances of developing heart conditions and, to a lesser extent, even cancer.

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The best part is that little exercise is required to boost your immune system against these health problems. Those who did only a small amount of physical activity – as opposed to none at all – also had an increased disease resistance. These findings are apparently something both the elderly and the young can benefit from.

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And while it’s tougher to quantify, the A.C.S. believes that cardio exercise can even improve mental health. Indeed, it appears that participants who got out more were less prone to depression and showed improved brain activity. In 2017 Patel spoke with the website Medical News Today about the study and how pleased she was with the outcome.

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Specifically, Patel reported how she was happy with the results because they were what she and her team had expected. “Walking has been described as the ‘perfect exercise,’” she said. “Because it is simple, free, convenient, doesn’t require any special equipment or training, and can be done at any age.”

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Patel also mentioned that experts expect a “near doubling of adults aged 65 and older expected by 2030.” She continued, “Clinicians should encourage patients to walk even if less than the recommended amount – especially as they age – for health and longevity.” This is more important, considering the current statistics on exercise.

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In fact, the C.D.C. performed a survey in 2017 to ascertain exercise levels in middle-aged and senior citizens. It revealed more than a quarter of people between the ages of 50 and 64 across the U.S.A. don’t walk enough. An additional 27 percent of people that are between 65 and 74 also register as inactive exercisers.

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Perhaps part of the reason for this is because it’s difficult to fit exercise into your daily schedule. However, there are ways you can adjust your routine to include some physical activity for the good of your health. For example, when you use a parking lot, you could position your vehicle further away than you need to.

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If you have the time, that extra walk to the office or supermarket can do wonders for your health. You could also stretch your legs at work by refilling your flask or by going out for a short lunchtime stroll. Even just five minutes per hour is better than nothing, as the A.C.S. discovered.

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Instead of driving to the local grocery store, you could walk there instead. Of course, that’s assuming you can carry whatever you need back home. If not, you could always split your shopping over several days to maximize your cardio time. Exercising little and often is actually better for you than intense bouts once a day.

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That’s actually how Blue Zone locals and the Amish stay so healthy. Walking and physical activity is just part of their way of life. So if it’s a choice between the stairs or the elevator, take the stairs! Basically, anything that keeps you physically active will help to improve your quality of life.

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In addition to walking, there are other steps you can take for healthy aging of both body and mind. Indeed, one 79-year, multi-generational study by Harvard scientists showed how developing deep bonds with friends and family promotes good health. Spending time with them apparently improves memory retention, keeps your mood high and even leads to a longer lifespan.

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You can also take inspiration from the various Blue Zone cuisines to improve your diet. For example, although some healthy eaters once thought carbohydrates were bad for you, many experts now believe the reverse is true. Indeed, complex carbs such as corn, potatoes and other starchy foods can prove beneficial to health.

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The Mediterranean diet, which the people of Ikaria enjoy, is similarly attributed to the Greek islanders’ longevity. The local cuisine features copious amounts of vegetables with limited dairy and meat-based dishes. The diet was actually the focus of a 2015 Columbia University study to test how it protects brains against the aging process.

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Although there are many promising ways to age healthily, Patel and the A.C.S. indicate walking is a good start. “[Our] findings are encouraging for the many individuals who do not currently engage in a physical activity regimen,” she told Medical News Today. “They can achieve tremendous health benefits from simply walking.” And it’s never too late to start!

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