By Jan TenBruggencate

Officials untie the maile lei during the blessing of three new segments of Ke Ala Hele Makalae, Kaua’i’s multi-use path in 2013. From left: Steve Baginski, president and CEO, Kaikor Construction Co.; Bill McCune, project manager, Earthworks Pacific, Inc.; Council member JoAnn Yukimura; Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.; Jeff Fisher, president, Earthworks Pacific, Inc.; Steve Kyono, vice president and Kaua’i office manager, SSFM International, Inc.; and Parks and Recreation Director Lenny Rapozo.

Walking as exercise was an unusual activity a generation ago, but on Kaua‘i today it is popular as well as healthful.

There are walking paths in many parts of the island.

A path runs through the Princeville resort community. Walkers can meander for miles along Ke Ala Hele Makalae, which runs from the white sands of Donkey Beach along the coast all the way to Lydgate Park. Fathers and mothers push baby strollers around the paths at Hokuala, between Nawiliwili Bay and Lihu‘e Airport.

That’s on top of all the roadside walking and bike paths and established hiking trails.

And the evidence keeps growing that walking has significant health benefits.

Health organizations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the American College of Sports Medicine recommend a fair amount of activity, from 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily to 20 minutes of vigorous activity at least three or more times weekly.

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at the different impacts of walking compared to more vigorous exercise. This particular study focused on women and cardiovascular fitness.

One of the findings: Get out there and do something physical, and walking works very well.

“Women who either walked or exercised vigorously at least 2.5 hours per week had a risk reduction of approximately 30 percent,” said the study, “Walking Compared with Vigorous Exercise for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Events in Women,” whose lead author was Dr. JoAnn E. Manson.

The Centers for Disease Control, in its pages on the benefits of physical activity, cites studies that indicate that regular physical activity can help control not only cardiovascular disease, but also diabetes, metabolic syndrome, some cancers, bone weakness and other problems.

And it can help you live longer.

“Only a few lifestyle choices have as large an impact on your health as physical activity. People who are physically active for about 7 hours a week have a 40 percent lower risk of dying early than those who are active for less than 30 minutes a week,” said the CDC.

And that doesn’t mean you need to be training for triathlons to get the benefits.

“You don’t have to do high amounts of activity or vigorous-intensity activity to reduce your risk of premature death. You can put yourself at lower risk of dying early by doing at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity,” CDC said.

Moderate activity includes brisk walking and biking less than 10 miles an hour. CDC likes to say that if you can talk, but not sing, it probably counts as moderate. If you have trouble getting out more than a few words, then that’s vigorous activity.

Hawai‘i does well on cardiovascular disease by national standards, and it may have something to do with exercise. Hawai‘i has one of the highest rates in the nation of citizens getting regular exercise. And whether that’s surfing, year-round gardening or just walking — it all adds up.

  • Jan TenBruggencate is a Kaua‘i based writer and communications consultant.