Going for a nice, leisurely stroll is generally considered a great way for people to get their bodies moving, burn some calories, and stay active while avoiding the rigors of more intense workouts. All of that’s 100% true, but are all walks created equal when it comes to cultivating robust health? Doesn’t look like it, according to a new study from Ohio State University.
Life, in general, can feel pretty intimidating and confusing when an individual is still looking for their purpose or long-term goals and aspirations. Similarly, the research team at OSU says that walking with a purpose appears to almost always be more beneficial than walking around aimlessly or casually.
Throughout the study, it was noted that people who walk to achieve a goal (commute to work, grocery shopping) usually walk at a faster rate and consider themselves healthier than people who usually only take walks casually. In summation, the study’s authors conclude that walking’s effect on one’s health is influenced greatly by the reasons behind the journey.
Moreover, “utilitarian walking,” or walking with a purpose, is also generally easier for people to incorporate into their daily routines. For example, if Ted decides to walk to work and back every Tuesday and Thursday, he’ll end up getting in a lot more regular physical activity than if he had just decided to “take a few casual walks whenever I have time.”
“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,” explains study co-author Gulsah Akar, an associate professor of city and regional planning in The Ohio State University Knowlton School of Architecture, in a release. “So, basically, both as city planners and as people, we should try to take the advantage of this as much as possible.”
To come to their conclusions the research team used data that had originally been collected in 2017 by the National Household Travel Survey. That dataset encompassed a staggering 125,885 U.S. adults between the ages of 18 and 64.
Each one of those people had reported how often and for how long they usually took a walk for different reasons (from home to work, from home to go shopping, from home to leisure activities, and walks that didn’t begin at home). Additionally, each participant had been asked to rate how healthy they felt in 2017 on a scale of 1-5.
Generally speaking, the more a person reported walking for any reason the healthier they felt. However, professor Akar also noticed some significant benefits associated with walking for a purpose.
“I was thinking the differences would not be that significant, that walking is walking, and all forms of walking are helpful,” she says. “And that is true, but walking for some purposes has a significantly greater effect on our health than others.”
For every extra 10 minutes a person spent commuting to their job via walking, their odds of self-reporting strong overall health increased by 6% in comparison to other participants who mostly walked for recreational purposes. On the other hand, each additional 10-minute increase in time spent walking recreationally was only linked to a 3% better chance of a higher health score.
We also move at a faster rate while walking to work. Researchers estimated that people walking to work usually moved at a 2.7 MPH speed, while those strolling casually walked at an average of 2.55 MPH.
“That means going to a gym or a recreation center aren’t the only ways to exercise,” professor Akar comments. “It’s an opportunity to put active minutes into our daily schedules in an easy way.”
One of the biggest challenges when it comes to maintaining a regular exercise schedule is simply finding the time. We all have so much going on in our lives, and between work, play, and family, it can feel impossible to find an hour or two for a dedicated workout. If you feel pressed for workout time often, adding some utilitarian walking to your weekly routine may be worth a try.
The full study can be found here, published in the Journal of Transport & Health.