Science says living longer might mean just walking a bit faster

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  • The latest research indicates walking faster could help you live longer.
  • The protective effects of walking pace are more pronounced in older age groups.
  • Walking faster is a good option, and one most people can easily incorporate into their lives, to get the heart rate up.

Walking a bit faster might be the answer to a longer life, according to research led by the University of Sydney.

A study of more than 50,000 walkers found a faster pace is associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality.

Walking at an average pace was found to be associated with a 20% risk reduction for all-cause mortality compared with walking at a slow pace, while walking at a brisk or fast pace was associated with a risk reduction of 24%.

The protective effects of walking pace were also found to be more pronounced in older age groups. Average pace walkers aged 60 years or over experienced a 46% reduction in risk of death from cardiovascular causes, and fast pace walkers a 53% reduction.

The study findings, published in a special issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine, was edited by lead author Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis from the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and School of Public Health.

“A fast pace is generally five to seven kilometres per hour, but it really depends on a walker’s fitness levels; an alternative indicator is to walk at a pace that makes you slightly out of breath or sweaty when sustained,” says Professor Stamatakis.

“Walking pace is associated with all-cause mortality risk, but its specific role — independent from the total physical activity a person undertakes — has received little attention until now.

“While sex and body mass index did not appear to influence outcomes, walking at an average or fast pace was associated with a significantly reduced risk of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease. There was no evidence to suggest pace had a significant influence on cancer mortality however.”

The research team is calling for walking pace to be emphasised in public health messages.

“Separating the effect of one specific aspect of physical activity and understanding its potentially causal association with risk of premature death is complex,” says Professor Stamatakis.

“Assuming our results reflect cause and effect, these analyses suggest that increasing walking pace may be a straightforward way for people to improve heart health and risk for premature mortality — providing a simple message for public health campaigns to promote.

“Especially in situations when walking more isn’t possible due to time pressures or a less walking-friendly environment, walking faster may be a good option to get the heart rate up – one that most people can easily incorporate into their lives.”

The study was a collaboration between the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Medicine and Health, the University of Cambridge, University of Edinburgh, University of Limerick and University of Ulster.

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