Walk faster, live longer? Study highlights benefits of speedy strolls

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Published June 9, 2019 12:38 p.m. ET
File photo. (Daniel Reche / Pexels)

People who walk briskly can expect to live years or even decades longer than people who prefer a more plodding pace, according to an extensive study.

British researchers examined the physical health and self-reported walking habits of nearly 475,000 people over a 10-year period, and came to the conclusion that walking speed is a “powerful predictor” of life expectancy.

The researchers divided their subjects based on BMI, waist circumference and body-fat percentage, and compared each of their life expectancies to whether they considered themselves slow, steady or brisk walkers.

“Brisk walkers were found to have longer life expectancies, which was constant across different levels and indices of adiposity,” the study reads.

The biggest differences were seen among people with low BMI levels. Women with low BMIs who said they walked slowly had an average life expectancy of 72.4 years, compared to 86.7 years for women who described their walking speed as brisk.

The gap was even larger for men with low BMIs, with brisk walkers hitting 85.2 years and slow walkers averaging life expectancies of 64.8.

Higher BMI levels brought smaller gaps. High-BMI women had life expectancies about three years longer if they walked briskly than if they walked slowly, while the comparable number for men was approximately 5.5 years.

Differences in life expectancy between average-speed walkers and brisk ones were much less notable.

The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults receive at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity in order to help reduce their risk of premature death, obesity, high blood pressure and other ailments. Brisk walking is considered to fall under this umbrella, while slow or average-speed walking is not.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation says 30 minutes a day of walking – even light walking – can lower a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke.

The researchers also measured participants’ grip strength. They found a similar correlation here, with greater grip strength correlating to longer life expectancy. However, the gap between the life expectancy of the higher-strength participants and the lower-strength ones was significantly smaller than the gap discovered between the different levels of walking speed.

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