SYDNEY — Want to live a longer, healthier life? Pick up your pace. A new study finds that people who walk at a brisk pace are much less likely to develop heart disease or suffer an early death than those who walk at slow speeds, especially when it comes to older adults.
Researchers from the University of Sydney examined data from 50,225 people over 30 who participated in major population-based studies from the United Kingdom — the Health Survey for England and the Scottish Health Survey — between 1994 and 2008. Participants used for the study had reported walking for at least 10 to 30 minutes on a given day within the previous month and had no prior diagnoses of heart disease, angina or stroke, or cancer.
After examining follow-up reports on the participants, the authors found that those who self-reported that they typically walked at a fast pace were shown to be 24 percent less likely to die of any cause than people who walk slowly. That said, moving along at an average speed was also associated with a 20 percent risk of death compared to the slowest walkers. Conversely, average walkers were 24 percent less likely to die from heart disease, while the fastest walkers were had a 21 percent risk reduction.
“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,” says lead author Emmanuel Stamatakis, a professor with the university’s school of public health, in a release.
Stamatakis notes that the results showed no link between walking speed and death from cancer.
So what exactly constitutes a fast pace versus an average one? The authors considered a fast pace to fall generally between 3.1 to 3.7 miles per hour (five to six kilometers per hour), depending on one’s fitness levels. “An alternative indicator is to walk at a pace that makes you slightly out of breath or sweaty when sustained,” says Stamatakis.
Pace particularly was important for older adults. Participants over 60 who walked at brisk speeds were 53 percent less likely to die from heart-related ailments, compared to 46 percent for average walkers. The authors controlled for factors including fitness levels, age, sex, and BMI.
The researchers believe their results should lead to a greater emphasis on pace from physicians and health officials.
“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,” says Stamatakis. “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 full study was published June 1, 2018 in a special issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine.