The evidence for walking

An infographic of various illnesses and ailments that can be reduced by keeping active

"Walking for Health offers a clear mechanism for primary care and other professionals to refer people to an appropriate led walks programme"

Public Health England, 2014

Physical inactivity is a public health problem comparable to smoking. People who did not achieve recommended levels of physical activity are at risk of developing serious illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Current figures show 39% of adults in England don’t meet the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines on physical activity of 150 minutes a week, and 22.5% are active for less than 30 minutes a week. 49% of children fail to meet the guidelines.1

If you work in an area of deprivation, the figures may be higher. Only 51% of adults in the poorest households meet the guidelines, compared to 70% in the richest households. People from certain ethnic groups are less active than average. And though physical activity has particular benefits to older people, it decreases sharply with age.1

For cancer patients, physical activity is beneficial at all stages, as it:

  • Improves or prevents the decline of physical function without increasing fatigue;
  • Helps recover physical function after treatment;
  • Reduces the risk of recurrence and of developing other long-term conditions;
  • Helps maintain independence and wellbeing.2, 3

Cancer survivors can reduce their risk of cancer-specific death and recurrence by up to 50% by staying active.2

Who can benefit from Walking for Health?

As well as reducing the risk, physical activity can help in treating and managing many serious conditions including cancer.
  • Regular physical activity improves control of blood sugar in patients with type 2 diabetes, even in the absence of weight loss, and can also improve overall fitness.4, 5 Diabetes UK advises that keeping active will help manage diabetes.6
  • Physical activity plays an important role in cardiac rehabilitation and can help people with peripheral vascular disease walk further before the onset of leg pain.7, 8 It is also beneficial in rehabilitation programmes for stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients.9
  • Evidence shows that physical activity can help prevent the bone loss associated with ageing across the lifespan of individuals.10
  • Physical activity can counter the effect of rheumatoid cachexia in rheumatoid arthritis  patients, two thirds of whom have significant muscle wasting and increased obesity.11
  • Physical activity can be as effective as antidepressants or psychotherapy in treating mild or moderate depression, particularly in the longer term.8, 12 The charity Mind recommends that ‘ecotherapy’ — outdoor physical activity — should be recognised as a clinically valid treatment for mental distress.

Walking Works is a report from Walking for Health that shows how effective walking can be.

An overview of the mounting research into the life threatening consequences of inactivity, Walking Works concludes that walking is the answer to help reduce the burden of long-term health conditions on the NHS.

Walking Works; the evidence that walking is the answer to the current physical inactivity epidemic

Supported by the Chief Medical Officer for England, the report shows that referring patients to Walking for Health can help save lives and money, and reduce clinic numbers.

>>> Click here to download Walking Works












1. Joint Health Surveys Unit. Health Survey for England 2012. [] (Health & Social Care Information Centre 2014)
2. Campbell A, Foster J, Stevinson C, Cavill N. The Importance of Physical Activity for People Living With and Beyond Cancer: A Concise Evidence
Review [ (Macmillan Cancer Support, 2012). 
3. Campbell A, Foster J, Stevinson C, Cavill N. Interventions to Promote Physical Activity for People Living With and Beyond Cancer: Evidence-Based Guidance [ (Macmillan Cancer Support, 2012).
4. US Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Report [] (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2008).
5. Miller YD, Dunstan DW. The effectiveness of physical activity interventions for the treatment of overweight and obesity and type 2 diabetes. J Sci Med Sport 2004, 7:52–59.
6. Diabetes UK. Keeping Active [ (Diabetes UK, 2009).
7. Department of Health. Coronary Heart Disease: National Service Framework for Coronary Heart Disease — Modern Standards and Service Models [ (Department of Health, 2000).
8. Department of Health. At Least Five a Week: Evidence on the Impact of Physical Activity and its Relationship to Health — A Report from the Chief Medical Officer [ (Department of Health, 2004)
9. Cavill N, Foster C. Health Benefits of Walking: The Evidence Base [] (National Campaign for Walking, 2011).
10. Vainionpau, A., Korpelainen, R., Leppaluoto, J., Jamsa, T. (2005) Effects of high-impact exercise on bone mineral density: A randomised controlled trial in premenopausal woman. Osteoporosis International; 16:191-197.
11. Walsmith J,Roubenoff R. Cachexia in rheumatoid arthritis. Int J Cardiol 2002, 85(1):85-99
12. Halliwell E. Up and Running? Exercise Therapy and the Treatment of Mild or Moderate Depression in Primary Care [] (Mental Health Foundation, 2005).