Walking and bicycling your way to health

cyclingWalking is an ideal exercise for many people—it doesn’t require any special equipment, can be done any time, any place, and it is generally safe. Also, many studies – including the Nurses’ Health Study, (1, 2) Health Professionals Follow-up Study, (3) Women’s Health Study, (4)Harvard Alumni Health Study, (5) National Health Interview Survey, (6) Women’s Health Initiative, (7) Honolulu Heart Program, (8) Black Women’s Health Study, (9) and others (10, 11) – have demonstrated that this simple form of exercise substantially reduces the chances of developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes in different populations.

  • Though walking has health benefits at any pace, brisk walking (at least 3 miles per hour) is more beneficial than slow walking for weight control. (12-14)
  • A report from the Nurses’ Health Study II suggests that bicycling offers similar benefits to brisk walking: (14) Researchers followed more than 18,000 women for 16 years to study the relationship between changes in physical activity and weight. On average, women gained about 20 pounds over the course of the study. Women who increased their physical activity by 30 minutes per day gained less weight than women whose activity levels stayed steady. But the type of activity made a difference: Women who added bicycling or brisk walking to their activity regimens were able to curb their weight gain, but women who added slow walking were not.

If you don’t like brisk walking or bicycling, any activity that makes your heart work harder will help you meet the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, as long as you do it often enough. Walking and biking are also green ways to commute to work—good for the environment, and good for you.


1. Manson, J.E., et al., A prospective study of walking as compared with vigorous exercise in the prevention of coronary heart disease in women. N Engl J Med, 1999. 341(9): p. 650-8.

2. Hu, F.B., et al., Walking compared with vigorous physical activity and risk of type 2 diabetes in women: a prospective study. JAMA, 1999. 282(15): p. 1433-9.

3. Tanasescu, M., et al., Exercise type and intensity in relation to coronary heart disease in men. JAMA, 2002. 288(16): p. 1994-2000.

4. Lee, I.M., et al., Physical activity and coronary heart disease in women: is “no pain, no gain” passe? JAMA, 2001. 285(11): p. 1447-54.

5. Sesso, H.D., R.S. Paffenbarger, Jr., and I.M. Lee, Physical activity and coronary heart disease in men: The Harvard Alumni Health Study. Circulation, 2000. 102(9): p. 975-80.

6. Gregg, E.W., et al., Relationship of walking to mortality among US adults with diabetes. Arch Intern Med, 2003. 163(12): p. 1440-7.

7. Manson, J.E., et al., Walking compared with vigorous exercise for the prevention of cardiovascular events in women. N Engl J Med, 2002. 347(10): p. 716-25.

8. Hakim, A.A., et al., Effects of walking on coronary heart disease in elderly men: the Honolulu Heart Program. Circulation, 1999. 100(1): p. 9-13.

9. Krishnan, S., L. Rosenberg, and J.R. Palmer, Physical activity and television watching in relation to risk of type 2 diabetes: the Black Women’s Health Study. Am J Epidemiol, 2009. 169(4): p. 428-34.

10. Oguma, Y. and T. Shinoda-Tagawa, Physical activity decreases cardiovascular disease risk in women: review and meta-analysis. Am J Prev Med, 2004. 26(5): p. 407-18.

11. Jeon, C.Y., et al., Physical activity of moderate intensity and risk of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review. Diabetes Care, 2007. 30(3): p. 744-52.

12. Mekary, R.A., et al., Physical activity patterns and prevention of weight gain in premenopausal women. Int J Obes (Lond), 2009. 33(9): p. 1039-47.

13. Mekary, R.A., et al., Physical activity in relation to long-term weight maintenance after intentional weight loss in premenopausal women. Obesity (Silver Spring), 2010. 18(1): p. 167-74.

14. Lusk, A.C., et al., Bicycle riding, walking, and weight gain in premenopausal women. Arch Intern Med, 2010. 170(12): p. 1050-6.