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An analysis of over 50,000 walkers found a faster pace is associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality.

Walking at a brisk or fast pace was found to be associated with a 24 percent risk reduction for all-cause mortality compared with walking at a slow pace.

While a similar result was found for risk of cardiovascular disease mortality, with a reduction of 21 percent walking at a brisk or fast pace, compared to walking at a slow pace.

The protective effects of walking pace were also found to be more pronounced in older age groups. Fast pace walkers aged 60 years or over experienced a 53 percent reduction in risk of death from cardiovascular causes.

The findings appear in a special issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine (from the BMJ Journals group) dedicated to Walking and Health, co-edited by Professor Marie Murphy, Professor of Exercise and Health at Ulster University to celebrate 21 years of walking research.  The special edition contains nine papers from leading walking researchers from across the world.

Professor Murphy said:

“We all know that walking is beneficial to our health and this special edition provides some of the latest research to back this up. One of these papers summarises a study of over 50,000 walkers and focuses on the specific role of walking pace. The results indicate that increasing our walking pace could be a simple way for people to improve their heart health and risk of premature mortality.

“Walking is already promoted as a cornerstone of health promotion but we believe this information on walking pace should be emphasised in public health campaigns to encourage people to incorporate a brisk-paced walk into their everyday lives. Even if you only have a little free time, upping the speed of your walk and increasing your heart rate will improve your health.”

In a collaboration between Ulster University, University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Medicine and Health, University of Cambridge, University of Edinburgh and Mary Immaculate College (University of Limerick), the researchers sought to determine the associations between walking pace with all-cause, cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality.

Linking mortality records with the results of 11 population-based surveys in England and Scotland between 1994 and 2008 – in which participants self-reported their walking pace – the research team then adjusted for factors such as total amount and intensity of all physical activity taken, age, sex and body mass index.

While sex and body mass index did not appear to influence outcomes, walking at an average or fast pace was associated with a significantly reduced risk of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease.

A fast pace is generally five to six kilometres per hour, but it really depends on a walker’s fitness levels; an alternative indicator is to walk at a pace that makes you warmer, slightly out of breath or sweaty when sustained.

In light of the findings, the research team is calling for walking pace to be emphasised in public health messages.

Colette Brolly, the Public Health Agency’s lead for physical activity, said:

“There are many health benefits of walking.  It can help you feel good, reduce anxiety, help manage your weight, reduce blood pressure and help you sleep better.  Adding a brisk pace to your walk can be particularly beneficial to your heart health.  Walking is also very enjoyable and a good opportunity to socialise, which is also good for health.

“Taking part in any activity is better than doing none at all, so it’s very important to move more than you did before and each day try to increase your activity levels.”