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LEICESTER, United Kingdom — A brisk walk could help add 16 years to your life, a new study finds. Researchers at the University of Leicester have discovered a link between a person’s walking pace and the rate at which they age.

Specifically, a lifetime of brisk walking leads to longer telomeres. These are the protective “caps” on the ends of your chromosomes — sort of like the plastic tabs on your shoelaces. Although they don’t carry genetic information, telomeres play a vital role in keeping DNA stable.

Scientists measure these end caps to calculate a person’s biological age. The longer they are, the younger a person is in terms of biological age — which can be much different from chronological age (your birthday).

In an analysis of over 400,000 British adults from the UK Biobank, scientists found that a faster walking pace throughout life could lead to a person being 16 years younger in terms of biological age by the time they reach midlife. Importantly, the team found brisk walking alone, regardless of how much physical activity that person engages in, leads to longer telomeres.

Walking faster may also prevent disease

Researchers explain that each time a cell divides, telomeres become shorter. At a certain point, telomeres get so short that the cell no longer divides. Although the link between telomere length and disease is still unclear, scientists say the buildup of senescent (elderly and dying) cells contributes to the development of age-related diseases and frailty.

Previous studies have shown how walking can provide physical, mental, and social benefits. However, the team says this is the first time scientists have compared walking speed with genetic data tied to longevity.

“Previous research on associations between walking pace, physical activity and telomere length has been limited by inconsistent findings and a lack of high-quality data,” says lead author Dr. Paddy Dempsey in a university release.

“This research uses genetic data to provide stronger evidence for a causal link between faster walking pace and longer telomere length. Data from wrist-worn wearable activity tracking devices used to measure habitual physical activity also supported a stronger role of habitual activity intensity (e.g. faster walking) in relation to telomere length,” the lecturer and research fellow at the University of Leicester continues.

“This suggests measures such as a habitually slower walking speed are a simple way of identifying people at greater risk of chronic disease or unhealthy aging, and that activity intensity may play an important role in optimizing interventions. For example, in addition to increasing overall walking, those who are able could aim to increase the number of steps completed in a given time (e.g. by walking faster to the bus stop). However, this requires further investigation.”

A quick walk around the block could add decades to your life!

Leicester researchers have previously found that as little as 10 minutes of brisk walking each day can contribute to a longer life. These individuals had a life expectancy up to 20 years longer than their slower walking peers.

The team in this study notes that they did not find a link between walking slower and telomere length growing shorter.

“Whilst we have previously shown that walking pace is a very strong predictor of health status, we have not been able to confirm that adopting a brisk walking pace actually causes better health. In this study we used information contained in people’s genetic profile to show that a faster walking pace is indeed likely to lead to a younger biological age as measured by telomeres,” concludes Tom Yates, senior author and Professor of Physical Activity, Sedentary Behavior and Health at the University of Leicester.

The study is published in the journal Communications Biology.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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55 Comments

  1. S Adler says:

    Bucky is exactly right. The article (I haven’t read the original scientific study) simply describes an correlation between fast waking and longer telomeres.
    Whether either causes the other, or both are caused by a third factor, or if the association is random, is unstated. Therefore trying to lengthen ones telomeres (and thus live longer) by waking faster may be a fool’s errand. It could be, for example, that people with poor physical conditioning and poor cardiac health die sooner and also walk slower.
    A 6′ 10″ individual is likely to be a better basketball player than a 5′ 6″ one. But for an adult to try to get taller by practicing free throws is idiotic.

  2. Americanuck says:

    So in the dark ages, when everyone walked everywhere, their life expectancy was higher?

  3. Marie says:

    I walk fast and have for many years, but I think there are other factors that contribute to a longer life as well on this path, as it were. Walking fast (or slow) is one of those exercises that doesn’t feel like exercise because it is also very enjoyable. Fresh air, sunshine (or even rain and some snow), the sounds of nature, brief, obviously, but always pleasant interactions with passers by–and all this is enhanced if you’re not stressed over heart rates and distances. I have long legs so I can walk about six miles an hour, and if I find myself slowing, I just speed it up. I also got in the habit of taking deep breaths, from time to time, as I walk. That’s about it. I’m 71 and I’m in very good health. I have been a life-long walker. Just enjoy it! It’s free, fun, and very refreshing.

  4. Gamera vs. Viras says:

    As a lifelong runner, I can say this is absolute nonsense. “Brisk walking” may be better than doing nothing, as moving is crucial always, but it is not going to add years to your life and it’s not a secret youth potion. Walking doesn’t even burn that many calories. You can kill a 2-hour walk with a candy bar. Walking should only be considered as a gateway exercise, done until you are in better shape to do more impactful exercise. This article is just another excuse for lazy people to remain lazy.

  5. Greg Green says:

    How do we know fast walking causes long telomeres, and not that long telomeres cause fast walking?

    Wouldn’t you have to have people change there lifestyle, ie get the slow walkers to walk fast and the fast walkers to walk slow and see if their telomeres change?

    Or maybe it’s something else that causes both, and both are merely subordinate effects.

  6. CFS says:

    It is likely that people predisposed to fast walking have these longevity benefits. Someone without that predisposition probably cannot just start walking fast and expect the same result.

  7. Robert says:

    I’d like to see more of that babe in the video, that will help me live longer along with fast pace walking. Hell ya!

  8. Dave says:

    The faster the better. And besides, what most people dont see is, any speed is better than spending all day inside reading about ways to get healthy.

  9. Brad says:

    Some are making this too difficult. It’s a brisk walk. Picture a slow jog. Picture a normal walk. It’s something in between the two. Don’t try to overthink this.

  10. Jason says:

    As others have mentioned, the study is very flawed since it is unable to establish that brisk walking causes a person to live longer. More likely, people who are physically healthier (i.e. more muscle mass, less fat) are capable of walking faster and thus do walk faster. Healthier people tend to live longer than unhealthy people. Thus, healthier people both walk faster and live longer, but walking faster does not cause one to become healthier. An analogy is basketball players. People who play basketball tend to be taller than average. But it is not playing basketball that causes a person to get taller.

  11. Joe says:

    I do not advise vigorous exercise after you get your CDC shot or CDC booster. Wait for a few weeks.

  12. Gerard Bessette says:

    Watch out for health studies: Does fast walking cause good health or does good health cause fast walking. Probably both. I notice cause and effect can be either way for a lot of studies.

  13. Annie says:

    So…As a “slow walker,” I guess I’m doomed.

  14. Nita says:

    Factor in older people with bad arthritis in knees and hips who are doing their best to walk briskly.. I can do 25 min mile but hard to increase without being in pain the rest of the day instead of feeling better after walking.. it’s a challenge!

  15. Christopher M Robinson says:

    I am 86 and a former infantryman. The Brit normal marching speed is 120 paces to the minute with a 30-inch pace. This works out at 3 mph or 1 mile every 20 minutes. That is relatively slow (and dignified) and our Light Infantry/Rifles friends do 140 to the minute, but I suspect a shorter pace. On my morning walks each day before breakfast, I probably do about 130 paces to the minute, but have not measured the length of pace.
    I think many of the other responders are probably experts at counting the number of angels on the head of a pin! IMHO walking fast depends on the age and condition of the person and has to be reasonable for the individual. Many people have died trying to clear snow in record time. What’s the point?

  16. chamilton says:

    For 22+ years I’ve walked 3 to 5 times a week 15 minutes in the am the “Walk away the pounds” or otherwise called “Walk at Home” Programs by Leslie Sansone (videos & YouTube) which incorporates brisk walking & movement. I am now in my mid-60’s & I am on no Rx medications, have no weight issues, no B/P issues, no ♥️ issues, no diabetes, no gastric problems, no renal issues, no problem moving around, no arthritis, and feeling great about my health. Many times I have heard Leslie Sansone say, “Exercise is the best medicine.” I made the choice 22 years ago to choose routine exercise and this fact has been clinically proven. It’s not too late to start an exercise program! I recommend this walking program to you! Consult your MD before starting any exercise program.

  17. Phred says:

    The article quoted has many design flaws. Its conclusions are for amusement. This story, then, isn’t much more than clickbait.