REGULAR outdoor walking in groups could be a lifesaver, suggests a new study.
Researchers found rambling cuts the risk of life-threatening conditions including stroke, coronary heart disease and depression.
The study by scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA), published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, reveals people who regularly walk in groups have lower blood pressure, resting heart rate and total cholesterol.
The exercise also leads to a reduction in body fat and body mass index, experts found.
More than one in four English adults (29 per cent) do less than 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every week while one in ten does not manage to walk for more than five minutes at a time over a month, according to previous studies.
Researchers say the new findings point to a cost-effective and low-risk way of enhancing overall health, and doctors should recommend joining a walking group as a way of boosting health. PhD student Sarah Hanson, who led the study with Professor Andy Jones of UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “Our research shows joining a walking group is one of the best and easiest ways to boost overall health.
“People who walk in groups also tend to have a more positive attitude toward physical activity, a shared experience of wellness, and say they feel less lonely and isolated. Taking regular walks can also be a catalyst for adopting other healthy behaviours.
“The research evidence suggests people enjoy attending walking groups and appear less likely to drop out than many other forms of activity.
“Walking is safe and walking groups could provide a valuable line of ‘treatment’, with a potential for both physiological and psychological health benefits.”
The team reviewed 42 studies spanning 1,843 participants in 14 countries and found people who joined walking groups registered statistically significant falls in average blood pressure, resting heart rate, body fat, weight and total cholesterol.
Walkers also experienced improvements in lung power, overall physical functioning, and general fitness, and they were less depressed than before they started walking regularly.
Evidence was less clear-cut for reductions in other risk factors, such as waist circumference, fasting blood glucose and blood fats.
There were few side-effects, apart from a handful of falls on roots or wet ground, and minor injuries such as calf strain.
Ms Hanson added: “These findings may provide clinicians with evidence of a further effective option to recommend to those patients who would benefit from increasing the amount of moderate-intensity physical activity they do.
“The ‘Walking for Health’ scheme, run by the Ramblers and Macmillan Cancer Support, is England’s largest network of outdoor group walks, with 70,000 regular walkers, 10,000 volunteer walk leaders and approximately 3,000 short walks offered every week around the country.”
Jackie Hayhoe, programme manager for Walking for Health, said: “Walking really works. Every day we see the positive impact this simple activity has on the thousands of people who regularly take part in Walking for Health group walks.
“We’re delighted to see further evidence to support what we see on the ground – that walking with others adds to the many health and well-being benefits regular walkers see.”