We all need to put a little more pep in our step. New information from the National Walkers’ Health Study, a database of information about middle-aged men and women who regularly walk for exercise, indicates that walking with greater speed is linked to longevity.
As the most popular physical activity in America, walking is assumed to be an equally beneficial exercise no matter the pace. In the new study, the benefits of moderate- and light- intensity walking were compared, as well as their impact on length of life.
Dr. Paul Williams of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where the information about regular walkers is held, divided the thousands of participants into categories based on their pace. The fastest category averaged less than 13.5 minutes per mile, while the slowest averaged 17 minutes per mile, with many in that category walking significantly slower.
Once the walkers were divided, Dr. Williams compared his data to death records to determine which of the participants had died since they joined the survey ten years ago. He also looked at their cause of death.
Of the participants, 2,000 had died since the beginning of the survey, most of whom were in the slowest category. People whose pace put them in the that category were found to be 18 percent more likely to have died than those in the three other categories. Their cause of death was also frequently heart disease or dementia.
“Our results do suggest that there is a significant health benefit to pursuing a faster pace,” Dr. Williams told the New York Times.
The standard exercise guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA) recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days a week. The AHA also recommends walking as a good exercise to benefit overall heart health
Even when meeting these guidelines, people who walked with the slowest pace, 24 minutes per mile, were found to be 44 percent more likely than those who walked faster. Though they were getting what is considered adequate exercise, it wasn’t as beneficial for longevity.
Walking with more speed can improve life length. The study found that those who walked at a slightly faster pace than the slowest group had a much lower risk of early death, even if they were only a couple minutes faster.
If walking is your main form of exercise, keep it up. There are a wealth of benefits to be gained from walking including improved heart health and a lowered risk of stroke, dementia and disease.
To test your walking speed, find a 400 meter track and take a timed lap at your normal pace. Finishing a lap in six minutes or more would put you in the 24 minute mile category, and indicates that you may want to increase your walking speed to enjoy the full benefits, including an extended lifespan.