Walking for Longevity

Surprising research: How many minutes per day should we walk to increase longevity and health?

Since this blog and website is about “Walking Ashland,” I think you might enjoy learning how walking has been shown – in many scientific studies – to improve longevity.  Walking at any age can boost your brain, put pep in your step and extend your life.

What are we “supposed to do?”
(according to scientific experts)

Here’s what.  The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans says we should get moving at least 30 minutes a day for at least 5 days each week. That works out to at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity exercise for the health benefits of exercise.

The guidelines further say that we should exercise for at least 10 minutes at a time to achieve exercise health benefits.

That all makes sense. The Guidelines were written by top experts.  They were based on research.  They must be true.

As with many subjects in life, I have good news and bad news for you.

First, the bad news.

How many of us meet the guidelines?  Most of us say we do…that’s not surprising.  But do we actually?

Ay, there’s the rub (to quote William Shakespeare).  How many of us actually get moving with moderate exercise at least 30 minutes a day for at least 5 days each week (for at least 150 minutes per week total)?

Jared Tucker and two colleagues at North Dakota State University decided to find out.  Here’s what they published in 2011.  They compared self-reporting (what people said about their weekly physical activity) with an objective measurement of their physical activity (people wore an accelerometer for 7 days that measured steps and movement). Drum roll, please…

By self-reporting (on a questionnaire), 62% of U.S. adults in the study said they met the Physical Activity Guidelines of at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity.

By objective data (wearing an accelerometer), only 9.6% of U.S. adults in the study met the Physical Activity Guidelines of at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity.  (Tucker 2011)

So more than half of the adults who filled out the questionnaire exaggerated, deceived themselves or lied about the amount of physical activity in their daily lives.

Based on the objective data, more than 90% of us are “couch potatoes.”  Ouch.

by Alex Fotos on pixabay

Is there any hope?  


Practical Tip: “After every 30 consecutive minutes spent sitting, stand up and move, ideally walking briskly for about five minutes.” (O’Keefe 2018)

A 2018 study showed that people still get the longevity benefit if they walk less than the recommended 150 minutes a week.  Even walking less, they had lower mortality over 13 years than people who were sedentary.  It was a huge study that followed 139,255 people in all.

The researchers concluded:

“In older adults, walking below minimum recommended levels is associated with lower all-cause mortality compared with inactivity. Walking at or above physical activity recommendations is associated with even greater decreased risk.  Walking is simple, free, and does not require any training, and thus is an ideal activity for most Americans, especially as they age.”  (Patel 2018)

If we take walking time per week down a notch, do we still get benefits? 

The answer, according to this 2013 Italian study, is yes.

The study demonstrated longevity benefits from walking only 60 minutes per week…even if you are already 80 years old.  152 elders in Italy who walked at least 15 minutes 4 times a week had a 40% reduced risk of mortality.  Dr. Fortes and colleagues concluded that their study results “suggest an independent and protective effect of walking on mortality and supports the encouragement of physical activity in advanced age for increasing longevity.” (Fortes 2013)

How about if you are really a couch potato and can’t even get out walking for 15 minutes at a time? 

Is there still hope? 


2015 research studied 3,626 mostly sedentary Americans who wore an accelerometer to track walking and movement.  The key finding was that just 2 minutes per hour more of light activity, such as walking or light gardening, was associated with a 33% lower risk of dying during the next three years.  (Beddhu 2015)

The Takeaway

If you can’t walk or exercise for 150 minutes each week, walk for as many minutes as you can.

If you can’t walk or exercise for 10 minutes at a time, walk or move for 5 minutes at a time.

If you can’t walk or move for 5 minutes at a time, walk or move for 2 minutes at a time.

You can call them “Baby Steps” or you can call them “Tiny Habits.”

The concept is to set yourself a goal that is so simple your mind can’t find a single excuse to fight it, something like: “I will walk for 2 minutes once a day.”  Almost anyone would think to himself or herself: “Sure, I can do that.  No problem.”

Then, 2 minutes once a day might become 5, then 10, then 15 minutes (or more).  Or it might become 2 minutes (or more) once an hour.  Either way, the key is consistency.

The takeaway is that baby steps or tiny habits, done consistently, can make a huge difference in your life and your health.

So get up walking or moving a few minutes more every hour, a few minutes more every day, and you are likely to live longer and healthier. 

Note: I am not advocating to walk for only 2 minutes at a time!  When it comes to walking, “the more the merrier” applies.  I am advocating to start with what is comfortable for you, and then to build from there…to the guidelines (150 minutes per week) and beyond!

References for the article:

Beddhu, S et al. Light Intensity Physical Activities and Mortality in the United States General Population and CKD Subpopulation, Clin J Am Soc Nephrol, 10: 1145–1153 2015.

Fortes C et al.  Walking four times weekly for at least 15 min is associated with longevity in a cohort of very elderly people, Maturitas, 2013 Mar; 74(3):246-51.

O’Keefe et al. The Goldilocks Zone for Exercise: Not Too Little, Not Too Much, Missouri Medicine, 2018 Mar-Apr;115(2):98-105.

Patel AV et al.  Walking in Relation to Mortality in a Large Prospective Cohort of Older U.S. Adults, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2018 Jan; 54(1):10-19.

Tucker, JM et al. Physical activity in U.S.: adults compliance with the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2011 Apr;40(4):454-61.

Holly Street Part 2: Ashland’s Faith Healer and Daffodil Paradise

Article Highlights:
(1) Ashland’s Famous Faith Healer
(2) Daffodil Paradise

541 Holly Street: Former home of Ashland’s Famous Faith Healer

Mrs. Susie Jessel (photo from Jessel, no date, title page)

541 Holly Street was the home of nationally renowned faith healer Susie Jessel.  She and her family moved to Ashland in 1932, and she lived here until her death in 1966.  Her daughter wrote that Susie Jessel treated as many as 300 people a day at times, people who came from all over the country, as well as Canada and Mexico.  She treated babies, the elderly, those with tumors, people who were crippled and many more.

Cars parked on Holly Street in the 1940’s, of people going for treatment from Susie Jessel (photo from Jessel, no date, page 62)

The photo above stimulated a memory for my friend Terry Skibby.  He told me: “My folks would tour Ashland by car and see the sights when company came.  One location was the Susie Jessel place with the large crowds of people.  They were in the trailer park and street at the corner of Holly and Idaho Streets.  This was in the 1950’s.”

How did she become a healer?  Here are Susie Jessel’s own words.

“On April 2, 1891, I arrived. I was born with what they then called a veil or caul over my face.  This was to indicate a special gift in a child.  I believe now it is just termed a membrane.  Mother noticed my gift immediately.  She had trouble with her breasts, and she noticed that when my hands would touch them, the pain would leave and before long all pain and fever was gone.

“During the war Daddy’s eye had been injured and had a whitish scum over it.  Before I was two years old I started noticing that eye and I would reach up and touch it.  Soon the scum started disappearing and the sight returned to that eye.  From that time on Daddy called me his ‘little bundle of magic.’

“I can’t remember when I wasn’t carried at all hours of the night to the ailing.  Mother would place my hands on the person, and before long they would get relief from pain.  And so my healing career started before I was out of the cradle.”   (Jessel, no date, page 8)

“After all my research, I’m convinced she was the real thing, a true spiritual healer….”  That quote is from author, lawyer and retired SOU business professor Dennis Powers, who researched Jessel and was quoted in John Darling’s 2014 Mail Tribune article.   Powers said that she healed by laying on of hands and prayer.  She did not ask for payment, but some people would leave money in her apron pocket. She insisted that she did not “do” the healing, that it was entirely God working through her.

People waiting to receive treatment from Susie Jessel (photo from Jessel 1950, page 7)

Time Magazine 1953

Time Magazine even featured Susie Jessel in a 1953 article. It said: “‘Susie,’ as her patients called her, moved to Ashland 23 years ago, and she has brought a boom to the town.  Thousands of hopeful patients keep the cash registers ringing in motels, hotels, restaurants, drug stores and movie houses.”

Unlike Dennis Powers, the author of the Time article was very cynical when it came Susie’s healing powers, as shown by this line from the article.  “Says Clarence Litwiller, a local undertaker who claims that last year he buried 18 of Susie’s patients: ‘She’s the biggest business in town for everybody.”

Here is another way to look at Litwiller’s statement.  If Susie Jessel treated thousands of people in a year, many of whom their doctors said were near death, and only 18 of them died in Ashland, that could be seen as quite amazing.

Mrs. Jessel did not say that she could heal everyone who came to her.  She made no promises.  However, she stated that there was “a big improvement in at least 80% of them.” (Jessel, no date, page 49)

Was the healing only psychological?

Skeptics said that healings, if anything happened at all, were only psychological.  Mrs. Jessel addressed this attitude:

“Some may feel that the healing is merely in the minds of the patients; however, when one thinks of the skeptical and the tiny babies and animals who with no knowledge of psychology receive so much and in some cases more help faster than adults, I don’t believe this theory applies.” (Jessel, no date, page 66)

Susie Jessel had a fascinating life story, but I can’t tell all of it here.  If you want to read more, you can find many of my references for this article in the Ashland Library.

Ashland, Susie Jessel
Susie Jessel treating someone by laying on hands (Jessel, no date, page 55)

The Gardener

I will end this part of my Holly Street article with the emotional closing lines from H.K. Ellis’ 1943 magazine article about Susie Jessel.

I was packing things away in the car, getting ready to leave Ashland, when I was told that a patient wished to speak to me.  He was pointed out, a short, stocky figure laboring in the nearby truck garden.

I went over, walking across soft red loam.  The young fellow wore grimy dungarees, a faded blue shirt and a ragged straw hat pulled low over his eyes.  I did not offer to shake hands with him for he seemed desirous of overlooking any sympathy.

‘How’s the de luxe gardener?’ I asked.

‘Just swell!’ he exclaimed. ‘Look!’

He raised his face to mine. His eyes were two circles of blotchy white.  ‘Look!’ he repeated.  ‘These cataracts are thinning.  For five years I’ve seen nothing farther than a yard away.  But now, for instance, look at that robin over on the cowshed fence. It’s about 50 feet, I’d say.’

‘You’re right,’ I agreed, following his gaze.  ‘But somehow, it’s hard to believe.’

‘Not when you’re behind the eight ball,’ he said grinning.  ‘Things Mrs. Jessel once told me are beginning to come true.  I know.  Why, only last night I caught a glimpse of the moon!’

541 Holly Street is still called the Jessel House, though it is now a vacation rental.

541 Holly St, former home of faith healer Susie Jessel

Do any of the readers of this article know someone who was treated by Susie Jessel?

Now let’s walk the rest of Holly Street until it ends at Liberty Street.

500 Holly Street: Artistic Fieldstone

Ashland, stone wall
500 Holly Street has a natural fieldstone wall anchored by two huge boulders.

I always appreciate creative stone wall building, especially natural fieldstone walls like this one.  I look at a stone wall like this and I think of words like patience, right-brain, strong visual sense, trust and nature.

558 Holly Street: Lush Wisteria vine

558 Holly, trunk of the huge Wisteria vine

This is not the longest stretching Wisteria vine I have ever seen, but it is close.  I think this is the largest Wisteria trunk I have ever seen.  As shown in the photo above, from the trunk at the corner of the front porch the vine has been trained to grow towards the street.

There it takes off along the front fence line, all the way to the property line in both directions (as shown in the photo below).  I look forward to coming back in the spring to enjoy this Wisteria’s magnificent blooms.

Mrs. Susie Jessel lived here at 558 Holly Street for about two years before settling at 541 Holly Street.

558 Holly, huge wisteria

645 Holly Street: Artistic Facade

Ashland, architecture
645 Holly Street has a beautiful stone facade

My artistic eye likes this stone-facade garage with upstairs studio.  The beautiful wood garage door adds to the charm and a little design help from afternoon sun and tree shadows completes the artistic package.

750 Holly Street: Magical Japanese Maple

Ashland, tree

750 Holly Street: This was my attempt to capture the magical afternoon light through Autumn-color Japanese Maple leaves.This house has a lovely front yard, but the afternoon sunlight shining through these Japanese Maple leaves really got my attention.  This little tree was absolutely stunning.  I captured a bit of the magic, but no matter how many photos I took, I couldn’t capture all of it.

826 Holly Street: Daffodil Paradise

Ashland, flowers
826 Holly Street, daffodil paradise, planted by Carol

Here at the Liberty Street end of Holly Street is one of the most spectacular Spring gardens in Ashland.  If you love daffodils, you must walk or drive to 826 Holly Street in March or April.  Here are photos of the garden in March of 2018 and March of 2020, to give you a taste of the daffodils (and lavender) in all their glory.

Ashland, flowers
The colors and shapes of daffodil and lavender complement each other during the month of March 2018 at 826 Holly Street.

I met Carol, the owner of 826 Holly Street, as I was walking in the springtime.  She explained to me that she started planting daffodil bulbs 24 years ago.  She liked them so much that she has continued to plant more every year since then, as well as separating the clumps of bulbs.

Carol told me her secret was to dead-head the flowers as soon as they stop blooming.  She told me: “I want all the goodness to go back into the bulb.”  I think you’ll agree that she has plenty of “goodness” to show for her 24 years of hard work and loving care.

I love the sign Carol placed on her front yard tree: “Think flowers and be happy. Get out and plant.”
This is a final photo of Carol’s lush daffodil garden in March 2020.

Two Dramatic Trees on Holly Street

I will close the Holly Street walk and article with a look at two trees that stand out.

Trail Marker Tree?

Ashland, tree
Is this Ponderosa pine at 558 Holly Street a “trail marker tree?”

When I spoke with Gary Pool, who lives on Holly Street, he pointed out this dramatic Ponderosa pine on Holly Street as a possible Native American trail marker tree.  I had never heard of the term “trail marker tree” and I did some research.  I found this interesting insight and explanation online.

“Trees have been used as signs for centuries. Between 2002 and 2005 I had the privilege of being involved with the Smithsonian  Museum of the American Indian.  During that time period, I worked with several native Americans, including a Native American ethnobotanist who taught me many interesting things about Native American Culture including the practice of using Marker Trees to show the way.  Native Americans used to use trees to tell in which direction they should travel. These were called Marker Trees.

“Favorite tree selection for these trees were oaks, maples and elms. These species were selected for their flexibility in youth, but hardwood in maturity. Marker trees were bent in the direction of a frequently visited destination such as a water source, campsite, or a safe river crossing.” (Ronda Roemmelt 2015)

The photo below shows a tree identified by experts as a Native American trail marker tree.

Ashland, tree
Trail Marker Tree in North Central Illinois, with Dennis Downes, researcher

(Photo on Great Lakes Trail Tree Society website)

After my research, I have concluded that the Ponderosa Pine on Holly Street is not a trail marker tree, though it would be romantic to call it one.  Here is my reasoning.  Nearly every trail marker tree photo I saw online shows the bent branch that “points the way” only 3′ to 6′ above the ground (like the photo above).  The lowest bent branch on the Holly Street pine is more than 10′ above the ground.  I think it is a case of unusual artwork by Mother Nature.

Massive Oak Tree

Ashland, oak tree
541 Holly Street is home to an historic oak tree, in addition to having been the home to an historic faith healer.

This oak tree is not quite as dramatic as the Ponderosa pine, but it has a massive and beautiful presence on Holly Street.

If you have thoughts about this article, or if you have a Holly Street story to add, feel free to leave a comment below.

References I consulted while writing about Holly Street:

Anon. “Medicine: Straw for the Drowning,” Time Magazine, September 7, 1953.

Darling, John. “A History of Healing,” Medford Mail Tribune, July 1, 2014. (link here)

Ellis, H.K.  “The Story of Mrs. Susie Jessel,” TRUE magazine,  Country Press Inc., 1943

Jessel, Mary Jane.  The Story of Mrs. Susie Jessel, 1950.

O’Harra, Marjorie.  Ashland: the first 130 years, 1986

Roemmelt, Ronda. “The History of Marker Trees,”  Deeproot.com, October 5, 2015

Sanderson, Mary Jessel.  Healing Hands: The Story of Susie Jessel, as told to her daughter Mary Jessel Sanderson, no date.