If you’re a fast walker, you could be adding years to your life, a new study suggests.
According to a study published last month in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, people who walk fast can add, on average, up to 15 to 20 years to their lives.
The large U.K.-based study collected data from almost 475,000 people with an average age of 52.
“Studies published so far have mainly shown the impact of body weight and physical fitness on mortality in terms of relative risk,” co-author Francesco Zaccardi, a clinical epidemiologist at the Leicester Diabetes Center, said in a statement.
“However, it is not always easy to interpret a ‘relative risk.’ Reporting in terms of life expectancy, conversely, is easier to interpret and gives a better idea of the separate and joint importance of body mass index and physical fitness.”
Lead author and professor Tom Yates with the University of Leicester added that the research indicated measuring exercise may be more beneficial to the body than body mass index (BMI) alone.
“In other words, the findings suggest that perhaps physical fitness is a better indicator of life expectancy than BMI and that encouraging the population to engage in brisk walking may add years to their lives,” Yates said.
The study found participants who reported taking brisk walks had a long life expectancy regardless of BMI. For women, this was a life expectancy of 86.7 to 87.8 years and for men, 85.2 to 86.8 years.
“Conversely, subjects reporting slow walking pace had shorter life expectancies,” the authors added, noting the life expectancy was 72.4 years for women and 64.8 years for men. This meant, on average, women who took brisk walks could live up to 15 years longer while men could live an additional 20 years.
Taking brisk walks
“Fast walking would be relative to the individual’s fitness level,” said Alistair Hopper, personal trainer at Flex Fitness, which is based in Winnipeg.
Hopper recommended starting with a 10-minute brisk walk and adding five minutes more each week.
“As long as you have been consistent and you don’t have any nagging injuries,” he added.
Gareth Nock, national team training coach with GoodLife Fitness, told Global News that walking, in general, is a great exercise to add to your regular routine.
“When done correctly and consistently, walking is a simple, free and enjoyable form of exercise. It promotes overall health and well-being by improving cardiovascular fitness, strengthening the muscles of the whole body and also helps us maintain energy balance,” he said.
Pace comes down to the individual.
“When setting your pace, it’s important to take into account any injuries or limitations to find a speed that works for your level of fitness. You can build your pace gradually to challenge your body and improve your stamina,” Nock said.
And if you want to talk your walk even further, try adding body weight exercises like squats, lunges, pushups and planks, he added.
“I also suggest building in movements that help increase the mobility of the hips, spine and shoulders,” Nock said. “Yoga and Pilates are both great options.”
Proper walking tips
Below, Nock suggests some reminders for brisk walkers.
Wear the right shoes: Look for sneakers or walking shoes that are flexible and have a good level of support.
Watch your posture: “Stand tall with your eyes up and your shoulders back,” he said. “Many people tend to let their heads fall forward so focus on rolling your shoulders back and down and looking ahead. Focus on drawing your navel towards your spine (abdominals braced) to support your lower back and overall posture.”
Swing your arms: “Arms should swing naturally and loosely from the shoulders,” he continued. Move the opposite arm to the leg that is stepping forward and keep your wrists straight, your hands unclenched and your elbows close to your sides.
Take faster — not longer — steps to increase speed: Lengthening your stride can put a strain on your feet and legs. “Walk lightly and allow your heel to touch the ground first,” Nock said.
Add interval training to improve your cardiovascular stamina: “For example, speed up for a minute or two every five minutes. Or alternate one fast mile with two slower miles,” he added.
Try hills to build strength and burn calories: If you’re going uphill, lean forward slightly to take the pressure off your leg muscles. “Walking downhill can be harder on your knees and may leave you with sore muscles,” Nock explained. “Slow down, keep your knees bent to absorb impact and take shorter steps.”
Use poles to work your upper body: If you need to, invest in walking poles. “When you step forward with the left foot, the right arm comes forward to plant the pole on the ground, about even with the heel of the left foot. This works the muscles of your upper body and reduces stress on your knees,” Nock said.