Brisk walking may be a key to your good health. People who report that they have a slower walking pace have a lower life expectancy than those walking fast, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research Centre – a partnership between Leicester’s Hospitals, the University of Leicester and Loughborough University.
According to the study’s findings, using data from the UK Biobank of 474,919 people recruited within the UK, found those with a habitually fast walking pace have a long-life expectancy across all levels of weight status – from underweight to morbidly obese. The researchers note that underweight individuals with a slow walking pace had the lowest life expectancy (an average of 64.8 years for men, 72.4 years for women). The same pattern of results was found for waist circumference measurements.
The researchers say this study, published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings on 15 May 2019, is a first in associating a longer life expectancy regardless of a person’s body weight or obesity status.
“Our findings could help clarify the relative importance of physical fitness compared to body weight on life expectancy of individuals. In other words, the findings suggest that perhaps physical fitness is a better indicator of life expectancy than body mass index (BMI), and that encouraging the population to engage in brisk walking may add years to their lives,” says Professor Tom Yates, professor of physical activity, sedentary behavior and health at the University of Leicester and a lead author of the study.
“Studies published so far have mainly shown the impact of body weight and physical fitness on mortality in terms of relative risk, for example a 20 per cent relative increase of risk of death for every 5 kilograms per meters squared increase, compared to a reference value of a BMI of 25 kilograms per meters squared (the threshold BMI between normal weight and overweight), adds Dr Francesco Zaccardi, clinical epidemiologist at the Leicester Diabetes Centre – based at Leicester General Hospital – and co-author of the study.
Last year, Professor Yates and his team showed that middle-aged people who reported that they are slow walkers were at higher risk of heart-related disease compared to the general population.
The study, which also used data from the UK Biobank, showed that slow walkers were twice as likely to have a heart-related death as fast walkers, even when other risk factors such as smoking and body mass index were taken into account.
The ABCs of Walking Fast
The HealthinAging.org, a website created by the American Geriatrics Society’s Health in Aging Foundation, offers these tips to help seniors ease into a walking program:
Tell your health care provider that you want to beginning walking briskly, especially noting if you feel a little stiff or pain when you walk. But you will feel a little better once your start moving.
Consider joining a walking program, offered by some shopping malls or senior centers, or walk with a friend. This will keep you motivated to regularly walk. For more details about walking and other types of physical activity, go to www.go4life.nia.nih.gov.
Make sure you are wearing the comfortable shoes and dress properly for the weather. When walking outside, wear layers of clothing. Take off a layer if you are hot and put it back on when it gets cold.
Don’t let a cane or walker keep you from walking. These can help you balance and take the load off painful joints.
Determine your appropriate pace. You can keep a brisk walk while chatting with a friend.
Walk in well-lit areas if you are walking in the evenings. Be aware of uneven surfaces and obstacles to keep from tripping.