Getting people off the couch isn’t always easy. But once a fitness habit is formed, it can result in a better quality of life. Something as simple as a daily brisk walk has many mental and physical health benefits.

Jill Barker »

Getting started can be hard, but according to a team of exercise scientists from the University of Ferrara in Italy, once a habit is formed it’s hard to break — even for those who were exercise-averse. The researchers followed up with 110 formerly sedentary individuals seven years after they participated in a year-long instructor-led walking group sponsored by public health. The goal was not only to see how many of the group were still active, but also to confirm any health benefits they had accrued since starting to exercise.

The original 12-month program included 650 participants, 326 of whom were still walking at the end of the year-long study. Four months after that, 258 were exercising regularly despite the lack of scheduled instructor-led sessions. Seven years post intervention, the researchers were able to connect with 63 women and 47 men of the original walking group, all of whom agreed to undergo the same physiological tests they took seven years before, including measuring their weight, body mass index, blood pressure and walking speed.

The average age of the walkers in the follow-up study was 61. Fifty-nine per cent of them still met the recommended 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week (the group averaged 286 minutes of exercise per week). Eleven individuals were sedentary and the rest performed fewer than 150 minutes of exercise per week. Yet despite the difference in weekly exercise volume, the average weight of the active and less-active groups was less than it was before starting the walking program. The sedentary/low activity group had higher BMI than the more active group. Ten of the walkers who had been obese lost enough weight they were classified as being overweight. »