Man walking briskly for longer telomere length

Do Fast Walkers Live Longer?

Do Fast Walkers Live Longer?

Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

If you want to slow the hands of time, moving those legs quickly may be just the ticket to staving off the effects of aging.

We already knew that walking is healthy and linked to longevity, but according to a new study of more than 400,000 U.K. residents, your pace matters. Researchers at the University of Leicester in the U.K. observed that self-reported faster walkers tended to have longer telomeres, which many consider to be a marker of biological age and life span. Telomeres are the caps on the end of our chromosomes that get shorter with each cell division and are usually measured in white blood cells because this is reflective of telomere length in other tissues.

A previous analysis of the same group of U.K. residents had shown that brisk walking was associated with longer life expectancy—even up to 20 years longer than slow walkers. In this current study, those who walked at a faster pace appeared to be biologically equivalent to 16 years younger than those who walked slowly, based on their length of telomeres.

What is fast walking?

The study defined a slow pace as less than 3 miles per hour, an average pace as between 3–4 miles per hour, and a brisk pace as greater than 4 miles per hour. All of these paces likely would keep your heart rate in the aerobic zone. Walking at a pace that increases heart rate would be considered higher intensity. The participants self-reported their paces and also wore a pedometer on their wrists to measure the speed of their walking workouts.

Walking: Health benefits of a daily fast walking workout

Clinical studies of aerobic workouts—which includes fast walking—suggest a variety of health benefits:

  • Burning calories and weight loss
  • Improved muscle health
  • Increased cardiorespiratory fitness
  • Improved cerebral blood flow which ultimately protects against dementia
  • Reduced risk of death from all causes, especially heart disease

All of these benefits may contribute to your overall health and longevity.

Additionally, one underrated benefit of fitness is the activation of the AMPK pathway, which is involved in important physiological processes such as regulating autophagy, the body's self-cleaning process. Autophagy is nature's way of clearing damaged proteins, stored fat and other waste products inside our cells. Insufficient autophagy is a driver of human aging and degenerative illness, while on the flip side, healthy autophagy is linked to a longer life.

Longevity: Why do people who walk fast have a longer life?

Research shows that those who walk faster live longer, but we don't know if this increased longevity is because they walk fast—or if they are healthier for other reasons and as a result are walking faster. (It's the ravages of aging, after all, that can slow you down, whether you're walking outside or doing a speed walking workout on your treadmill.)

The current study from the U.K. did not measure life spans—it only measured leukocyte telomere length, and there is not yet definitive proof that preventing telomere shortening results in an increased lifespan. There is, however, overwhelming evidence that increasing physical activity greatly benefits your health in a variety of ways, and that walking faster is better than walking slowly, even if you walk slowly for a long time.

Furthermore, your fast walking could keep your body mass index healthy or even result in weight loss, and weight loss alone (as little as 5% of your body weight) has health benefits associated with a long life. Additionally, a regular fitness routine can benefit everything from your immune system to your likelihood of suffering a degenerative disease like Alzheimer's.

What is an ideal fast walking pace?

The study defined fast walking or a brisk pace as more than 4 mph. (Note that going as fast as 5 mph would count as jogging or running.) Not sure if you're walking that fast? If you're not using a treadmill, it's a good idea to download a fitness app that tracks your speed and distance. More sophisticated programs will also tell you how many calories you burned.

Is fast walking a good exercise?

Fast walking (sometimes called power walking) is a great way to get in more physical activity! That said, try not to limit yourself to brisk walking as your only form of exercise. We know that aerobic exercise at greater intensities, and other forms of exercise such as resistance training is excellent for your health, too.

Additionally, walking is a great workout for a number of practical reasons. You don't need any equipment or to belong to a gym, and people of almost any fitness level can partake (although there are professional "race walkers," in case you want a goal to aspire to). All you need is a good pair of sneakers, good posture and maybe a dog or human companion to accompany you on your journey. Put one foot after the other, and you're off!

Is it better to walk faster or longer?

Interestingly, the current study found that fast or power walking was causally associated with longer leukocyte telomere length independent of the amount of minutes devoted to the activity. Other human studies suggest that how long you walk may matter less compared to the intensity.

According to a clinical study by the Mayo Clinic, fast walking in older adults improved cardiorespiratory fitness when it totaled 50 minutes per week, but the benefits plateaued after longer durations. The study also showed that slow or total walking time was not associated with improved cardiorespiratory fitness. Based on this information, you may need to spend more effort on increasing your pace, rather than your distance.

Another important factor to consider in walking length is your total step count. One study found that participants who took 8,000 steps daily, compared to those that had half as much, were also about half as likely to die for any reason, especially heart disease.

So, achieve 50 minutes of brisk walking weekly while also achieving 8,000 daily steps, and you'll increase your chances of longevity success! Take it a step further by adding in resistance training.

Fast walking vs running: Which one is best?

Neither is necessarily better than the other; they're both excellent forms of exercise. (And for that matter, so is jogging, which in intensity sits right in between a brisk walk and a steady run.) If you're new to exercising or trying to get back into shape after inactivity, it's a good idea to build up to faster paces, so start at one that is more comfortable and then try upping the pace later.

Running, for many people, is a better workout than brisk walking as it raises your heart rate higher and increases the calorie burn. Those who want to avoid running or limit higher impact physical activity can still get plenty of benefits from fast walking. Or, they can seek other forms of aerobic exercise such as swimming, which happens to be a great full-body workout well-suited to aging athletes, or give biking a try. (If you're looking for ways to reduce joint pain, plant extracts from tamarind and turmeric are a few suggestions that may help you put one foot in front of the other!)

It's also good idea to change up your exercise routine by getting a mix of lower and higher intensities. One form of exercise enhancement is high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which is a few minutes of fast activity and a few minutes of slower activity. HIIT has been shown to result in significantly greater health benefits.

Resistance training is also a proven strategy to reduce the risk of sarcopenia and frailty, conditions among aging individuals which especially increase the risk of falling and suffering a life changing injury.

Should I walk slowly if a brisk walk isn't possible?

Any workout is good for your health and your longevity, even if you've got a slower stride. While it's true that brisk walking has more benefits, every minute you devote to your walking workout is a minute you're not spending on the couch. You're not walking, after all, to qualify for an Olympic sport! Your goal is longevity—and the best way to get there is to put one foot in front of the other. And if you keep at it, who knows…maybe one day you'll give those speed walkers a run for their money.


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The Life Extension Health News team delivers accurate information about vitamins, nutrition and aging. Our stories rely on multiple, authoritative sources and experts. We keep our content accurate and trustworthy, by submitting it to a medical reviewer.