Is crawling to class acceptable?


We've all been there; sometimes that walk to class just seems impossible. The struggle to walk all the way to your French class in Engineering Unit B (because THAT makes sense, Penn State) is all too real. But, as much as you're dreading the walk, you also hate the White Loop. So, you suck it up, tell yourself it's good exercise, and head out. Then, you realize, why should I be stuck out in the cold any longer than I have to? So, you pick up the pace and breeze past all those nerdy engineers that inhabit the southwest end of campus (no offense, guys; one of my best friends is an engineer). Obviously walking is good exercise, and we get plenty here at State, but a new study shows that walking faster for a shorter amount of time has greater physical benefit than walking at a slower pace for a longer amount of time.

 A study conducted by Paul T. Williams examined a group of nearly 40,000 people who walk at varying speeds as their daily exercise. Participants were separated into four groups based on their walking speed.  Approximately a decade later, Williams checked the national death index to see which of the walkers had passed away since joining this experiment. Nearly 2,000 walkers had died. The slowest group, which averaged around 17 minutes per mile (and contained many walkers who averaged over 20 minutes) showed an 18% increased risk of dying compared to the other groups, specifically from heart disease and dementia. The slowest of the group, those who averaged 24 minutes or more, showed a shocking 44% increased risk of death.

This is a very generic study and there could be many other third variables, such as prior health/fitness, pre-existing conditions, or genetics, or it could simply be due to chance. Not much was taken into account other than their walking speed and whether or not they died.  If I were to conduct this study, I would look at the pre-existing conditions of the participants, as well as the cause of death for those who later passed on. Things such as car accidents, murders, or freak occurrences could have caused many of these deaths, making that 18% less significant. On the other hand, with nearly 40,000 participants, there is a lot of diversity. With that many people, the chance that the risk of death with relation to walking at a slower rate seemingly becomes less likely to be a result of third variables or chance.

Andrew often asks us whether or not the "prescribed" action has a greater cost than reward; meaning, whether you believe the results or not, what is it going to cost you to follow the advice given? In this case, I see no reason why people should not begin walking more and at a faster pace. The only thing you're losing is time, and you could gain numerous health benefits, such as treating high blood pressure  or reducing the risk of breast cancer. Besides, let's be honest, getting 30 minutes of walking in a day here at Penn State is a necessity. So we wouldn't even be losing time; by simply walking faster, we'd actually be gaining it. Tomorrow, forget the CATA buses, put on a little Zombie Nation, and pick up the pace on your walk to class; you never know what might happen.


I was impressed by this blog's mentioning that the cost of changing behavior based on the results of a study can outweigh the reward. While the results of this study are consistent with what you'd expect, it is worth considering whether changing one's behavior has a greater cost or benefit. In this case, walking at a faster pace has both costs and benefits. Walking faster is better exercise and more exercise certainly causes less health risks, but walking faster may also increase one's chances of getting hit by a car. Walking faster saves time, but also decreases one's exposure to the sun and the benefits of natural sunlight such as vitamin D. This study is large but still leaves room for many third variables to skew the results. I do not have all the answers, but know that there are many factors that contribute to the relationship between walking pace and risk of death.

I also blogged about how walking can be beneficial for your health. Regardless if you walk faster or not, you will still see health benefits. Walking is very simple, yet very good for your heart & lungs. Plus walking at a pace suitable for you is also decreases your chance of injury.

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