The results of a new large-scale study from the UK, which has revealed that healthy slow-walking middle-aged adults are two times more likely to die from heart disease than brisk walkers, is in fact universally applicable. The University of Leicester research analysed data from the UK Biobank of 420,727 middle-aged people across the UK between 2006 and 2010. People were selected for the study if they were cancer-free and heart disease-free at the time of collecting their information. After following up 6.3 years later, researchers found that there were 8,598 deaths. Of those, 1,654 were from heart disease and 4,850 were from cancer. From their findings, researchers were able to conclude that the pace at which someone walked was linked to their likelihood of heart disease.
“Slow walkers were around twice as likely to have a heart-related death compared to brisk walkers,” according to principal author of the study Tom Yates. This finding was seen in both men and women and was not explained by related risk factors such as smoking, body mass index (BMI), diet or how much television the participants in the sample watched. This suggests habitual walking pace is an independent predictor of heart-related death. Yates and his team also found that self-reported walking pace was “strongly linked to an individual’s objectively measured exercise tolerance,” which further suggests that walking pace is a good measure of overall physical fitness. However, it was actually adults with the lowest BMIs who were found to have the highest risk from walking slowly. The researchers also looked into whether walking pace could be linked to cancer, but no connection was found.
“Therefore, self-reported walking pace could be used to identify individuals who have low physical fitness and high mortality risk that would benefit from targeted physical exercise interventions,” Yates adds. The study was published last week in the European Heart Journal. This isn’t the first study to link heart disease and walking pace though – research from 2009 concluded that walking slowly is “strongly associated” with an increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke. Heart disease is often a result of high blood pressure, obesity and high cholesterol. It’s the leading cause of death in the US, and second to dementia in the UK.
According to a 2015 Tufts University study, researchers determined that walking faster or longer was linked to “significant” cardiovascular benefits in older adults. Another 2015 study by Ohio State University found that walking at various speeds can burn up to 20% more calories compared to walking a steady pace. The American Academy of Neurology also concluded in 2012 study that the speed at which one walks later in life may signal the early stages of dementia, also known as mild cognitive impairment (MCI). In fact, people who were slow walkers were nine times more likely have non-memory related MCI than fast walkers. Brisk walking, which has always been associated with better health, has once again got a research boost.
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