Walking faster may slow down ageing

Data found faster walkers age slower than their more pedestrian peers - TOLGA AKMEN
Data found faster walkers age slower than their more pedestrian peers – TOLGA AKMEN

Picking up the pace and walking faster can slow down ageing, a study has found.

Academics say that adopting a quicker speed improves health and that by the time a fast walker reaches midlife their body will be the equivalent of 16 years younger than that of a slow walker.

Scientists looked at each participant’s chromosomes and, more specifically, the end of the chromosome called the telomere which protects the genetic material from damage.

This little section of DNA is a telltale sign of someone’s biological age as it shrinks over time. The longer a person’s telomere, the “younger” their body is.

Each time a cell divides, these telomeres become shorter until a point where they become so short the cell can no longer divide.

For the first of its kind study, the team looked at data from the UK Biobank, a vast database containing the health information of half a million people.

They compared genetic data with self-reported walking speeds and measurements of movement intensity from wearable activity tracking devices worn by participants.

The researchers found that by the time a person reaches mid-life, being a fast walker, compared to a slow walker, is equivalent to being 16 years younger.

Roughly half of the study participants described themselves as steady walkers, 41.1 per cent believed they have a brisk gait and just 6.6 per cent said they were plodders.

“These findings support more intensive habitual movement, such as faster walking pace, as potentially important determinants of [biological age] and overall health status in humans,” the researchers write in their study published in Communications Biology.

Lead study author Dr Paddy Dempsey, from the University of Leicester, said: “Previous research on associations between walking pace, physical activity and telomere length has been limited by inconsistent findings and a lack of high-quality data.

“This research uses genetic data to provide stronger evidence for a causal link between faster walking pace and longer telomere length.

“[It] suggests measures such as a habitually slower walking speed are a simple way of identifying people at greater risk of chronic disease or unhealthy ageing, and that activity intensity may play an important role in optimising interventions.

“For example, in addition to increasing overall walking, those who are able could aim to increase the number of steps completed in a given time (e.g. by walking faster to the bus stop). However, this requires further investigation.”

Researchers from the University of Leicester have previously shown that just 10 minutes of brisk walking a day is associated with a longer life, and that fast walkers can live for up to 20 years longer than slow strollers.

The study’s senior author Professor Tom Yates said: “Whilst we have previously shown that walking pace is a very strong predictor of health status, we have not been able to confirm that adopting a brisk walking pace actually causes better health.

“In this study we used information contained in people’s genetic profile to show that a faster walking pace is indeed likely to lead to a younger biological age as measured by telomeres.”

The findings were published in the journal Communications Biology.

Published by anthonyhayble

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