Walking with a purpose – especially walking to work – makes people walk faster and think of themselves as healthier than just taking a casual walk, a new study has found.
The study was recently published in the Journal of Transport and Health. It found that walking for different reasons — from a casual walk to purposeful errand-running — yielded different levels of self-rated health.
People who walked primarily to destinations like their workplace or the grocery store, for example, reported better health than the “casual walk” group, who walked mostly for leisure.
Walking to work as part of your daily routine
“We found that walking for utilitarian purposes significantly improves your health, and that those types of walking trips are easier to bring into your daily routine,” said lead author Gulsah Akar, an associate professor at Ohio State University.
The study used data from the 2017 National Household Travel Survey, a U.S. dataset.
Any duration of walk has positive effects
The researchers analyzed self-reported health assessments from 125,885 people between the ages of 18 and 64. They reported the number of minutes they spent walking for different purposes. Examples included from home to work, from home to shopping, from home to recreation activities, and walking trips that did not start at their homes.
The the survey respondents also ranked how healthy they felt on a scale of 1 to 5. The dataset that the researchers analyzed included more than 500,000 trips.
The researchers found that walking for any duration, for any purpose, increased how healthy a person felt.
The greatest health benefits come from walking to work
But they also found that an additional 10 minutes of walking per trip from home for work-based trips increased that person’s odds of having a higher health score by 6 percent. People who walked for other reasons were 3% more likely to have a higher health score. Example reasons were shopping or recreation.
The researchers also found that people who walk to work walk faster. On average, their speed is about 2.7 miles per hour. People who walked for recreational purposes, like an after-dinner stroll, walked on average 2.55 miles per hour.
The researchers also found that walking trips that begin at home are generally the longest. They found that 64% of home-based walking trips last at least 10 minutes. In contrast, only 50% of trips that begin elsewhere are at least that long.
Different walking purposes lead to different results
Akar has studied the ways people travel for years. She didn’t expect to find that that walking for different purposes would lead to such a difference in people’s health self-reports.
“I was thinking the differences would not be that significant, that walking is walking, and all forms of walking are helpful,” she said. “And that is true, but walking for some purposes has a significantly greater effect on our health than others.”
Akar said the findings suggest that building activity into parts of a day that are otherwise sedentary can make a person feel healthier. An example is commuting by foot instead of by car.
“That means going to a gym or a recreation center aren’t the only ways to exercise,” Akar said. “It’s an opportunity to put active minutes into our daily schedules in an easy way.”
Study: “Effects of walking on self-assessed health status: Links between walking, trip purposes and health“
Authors: Gilsu Pae and Gulsah Akar
Published in: Journal of Transport & Health
Publication date: September 2020
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