Can a Fast-Paced Walk Add Years to Your Life?

Physical activity is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle, but moving more doesn’t necessarily mean weight lifting or hours at the gym. Low-intensity movement, such as a brisk walk, can have remarkable effects on overall wellness, ranging from improved heart and lung health to reduced cardiac risk factors like high blood pressure and cholesterol to stronger bones and joints.

New research shows that a brisk walk may do even more, slowing down the aging process and adding as much as 16 years by midlife.

A study published last week in Communications Biology identifies a link between faster walking pace and longer leukocyte telomere length (LTL). Typically used as a biological age marker, a telomere is a repetitive DNA sequence at the end of chromosomes that protects them from being frayed or tangled. Every time a cell divides, the telomere shortens, until they become so short that the cell can no longer divide and subsequently dies. Because of this association, telomere length can be used as a rough indicator of life span and likelihood of  developing age-related diseases like cancer.

In the study, researchers analyzed data from more than 400,000 middle-aged participants and compared it to information on walking speeds, both self-reported and taken from activity trackers. The group was then divided into three categories based on their walking speeds: slow, steady, and brisk. Only six percent considered themselves slow walkers, while nearly half reported a steady pace and 41 percent reported a brisk pace.

The results showed that the faster-paced walkers typically had longer leukocyte telomere length, on average, than the slower-walking participants, meaning that benefits tended to depend on the speed/intensity of the walk, rather than the total steps or duration. The study also demonstrated that a faster walking pace is indeed likely to lead to a younger biological age as measured by telomeres.

The best news? Walking is a highly accessible exercise for people of all ages and most ability levels, and can serve as the foundation for other healthy habits and behaviors. And there are many ways to incorporate walking into your current wellness routine, with a goal of eventually building up to a brisk pace. The Healthy Monday Walk Your Way to Better Health package is a great place to start. The 10-week email series designed to help you create and maintain your own daily walking habit, steadily increasing the pace of your walking over time.