You likely know the joy of a leisurely stroll through the park – soaking up the sunshine and watching the people go by. Indeed, getting people walking has been on the public health agenda for many years. It’s a simple, cost-effective way to improve your fitness, strengthen heart and bones, and help you lose a little weight. But what’s the relationship between how briskly you walk and your overall health? Turns out, it might pay dividends to hasten your step.
The researchers in this paper looked at the activity of 50,000 walkers from Scotland and England. They wanted to see if there was a relationship between how quickly or slowly someone walked, and their risk of death. They didn’t measure the walking speed of each person – rather, they got people to self-rate their walking speed as slow, average, brisk or fast.
The researchers also asked about other physical activity the walkers undertook each week, so that they could control for that between different people. And, they also asked about other lifestyle habits – things like how often the person smoked and drank alcohol.
Among the Scottish and English walkers, the researchers discovered there was a relationship between walking speed and your overall risk of death. Walking at an average, brisk or fast pace was linked to a reduced risk of overall death. It also meant you had less chance of dying from heart disease. The study also looked out for a link between a faster walking speed and a lower risk of dying of cancer, but didn’t find any connection between the two.
What’s tricky about a study like this is that it’s still not fully clear whether brisk walking causes better health, or if it’s the other way round. It’s entirely possible that those who are in good health also walk more quickly. Either way, it’s not a bad idea to work up a bit of huff and puff for some of the time you spend walking – and that’s especially if you don’t pound the pavement as often as you’d like. The researchers said that bumping up your walk speed can be of particular benefit for people who aren’t getting enough physical exercise in general.