Brisk walking pace results in ‘younger biological age,’ possibly adding years to your life: study

Walking fast every day will help you live longer, a new study indicates.

A brisk pace is associated with longer telomeres, a biological-age genetic marker, and so a lifetime of speedy walking could add years to your life – possibly many years.

The research concludes that “brisk walkers have up to 20 years’ greater life expectancy compared to slow walkers,” the University of Leicester wrote of the study, which was published in the journal Communications Biology.

Telomeres “are the ‘caps’ at the end of each chromosome and hold repetitive sequences of non-coding DNA that protect the chromosome from damage, similar to the way the cap at the end of a shoelace stops it from unraveling,” the university added . “Each time a cell divides, these telomeres become shorter – until a point where they become so short that the cell can no longer divide, known as ‘replicative senescence.’”

For the study, titled “Investigations of a UK biobank cohort reveals causal associations of self-reported walking pace with telomere length,” researchers pored over data from more than 400,000 people in Great Britain that included measurements from tracking devices such as Fitbits.

Paddy Dempsey, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Leicester and the University of Cambridge – and the study’s lead author – insisted the work is a brisk step beyond earlier studies that examined the benefits of walking.

“This research uses genetic data to provide stronger evidence for a causal link between faster walking pace and longer telomere length,” he said in a statement.

Added his colleague Tom Yates, a professor at the University of Leicester:

“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 study participants self-reported their walking pace as “slow,” “steady/average” or “brisk,” with a slow pace considered less than 3 miles per hour, a steady/average pace as 3–4 miles per hour and a brisk pace as more than 4 miles per hour.

The study points out that the reason walking pace and telomere length are connected “is unclear.”

Wall Street Journal humor columnist Jason Gay noted the study’s astonishing claims – such as that consistent fast walking could, by midlife, make a person 16 years younger in biological age as measured by telomeres.

“Shaving off 16 years is no joke,” he wrote. “That’s a lot of time to claw back. I don’t think there’s a lifestyle move you can make that would give you back 16 years. Not even quitting social media.”

Which isn’t to say he was pleased to learn of this simple, straightforward opportunity to potentially extend his life.

“Aren’t we supposed to be slowing down and appreciating our surroundings?” he added. “Isn’t that a lesson of the 21st century, that our harried, overscheduled lives are leading us to sadness?”

Maybe they are – and the study’s researchers have good news even for self-professed slow walkers like Gay.

You only need to walk fast for 10 minutes a day for a longer life expectancy. Then you can slow down and appreciate your surroundings.

–Douglas Perry; dperry@oregonian.com

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