How fast do you walk? Walking faster could help you live longer, a new study shows, especially for older people and for people at a risk of heart disease. From the University of Sydney, researchers examine walking pace and mortality rates from heart disease and from all causes.
"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," explained lead author Emmanuel Stamatakis.
In the new study, researchers look at the health effects of walking at a slow, average, or fast pace. They used mortality (death) records as well as data from population-based studies where respondents self-reported their walking pace. During analysis, researchers factored in age, sex, and body mass index (BMI) to maximize the impact of their results. They looked for links between walking pace and death from all causes, heart disease, and cancer. They found no significant relationship between walking pace and cancer mortality, but they did find significant links between walking pace and all-cause and heart disease death.
First, they found that walking at an average pace versus a slow pace results in a 20 percent decrease in risk for death from any cause. The decrease in risk is four percent greater when the walking pace is fast.
Specifically for deaths from heart disease, walking at an average pace and walking at a fast pace lowers risk by 24 and 21 percent respectively, both compared to walking at a slow pace. The protective effects are especially significant for older people: for people older than 60, increasing walking pace reduced risk of death by 46 percent (average page) and 53 percent (fast pace).
Stamatakis points out that the relationship between walking pace and risk of death is independent from an individual’s total physical activity level.
“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,” Stamatakis concluded. In America, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.
"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 present study was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.