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Mackie: Walking faster, not further, improves health

Each week, an average adult should do 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 145 million adults include walking as part of a physically active lifestyle – with six in ten walking for transportation, fun, relaxation, exercise, along with walking the dog. 


The updated 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americansays, “adults should do at least 150 minutes to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.  

Prior research is replete with data demonstrating that increased walking time leads to increased fitness, lower body weight and body mass index, percent body fat, and a lower systolic (top number) blood pressure.  

British research - UK Biobank - has found that self-reported (using touch-screen questionnaires) walking pace being, “strongly associated with both all-cause and cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality; indeed, the risk associated with walking at (less than) 3 mph, compared with (greater than or equal to) 4 mph, was stronger than for smoking.” 

The unanswered questionuntil now, was to determine in a large population of middle-age and older adults, if there was an association between “usual walking pace” and a range of cardiovascular, respiratory, and cancer health outcomes. 

UK researchers writing – Walking Pace Is Associated with Lower Risk of All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality – which appears in the March issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, have determined that, “walking pace is associated with lower risk of a wide range of important health conditions, independently of overall time spent walking.”  

Between April 2007 and December 2010, the UK Biobank obtained data on 318,185 participants age forty to sixty-nine, who attended, 1 of 22 assessment centers across England, Wales, and Scotlandwhere they completed a touch-screen questionnaire, had physical measurements taken, and provided biological samples.” 

In addition, “all-cause mortality and CVD, respiratory disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cancer mortality and incidence were the main outcomes; and, walking pace (slow, average, and brisk) was the exposure of interest. 

Participants, with an initial diagnosis of depression, COPD, chronic asthma, chronic liver diseases, alcohol problems, substance abuse, eating disorders, schizophrenia, cognitive impairment, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, chronic pain syndrome, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, were excluded  (71,026 people) from the study – along with those who reported being unable to walk (1929 individuals), or did not answer the initial questionnaire (7669). 

Hospital admissions of the cohort group were ascertained through March of 2015 and mortality - from death certificates - extending to January 2016. Dietary information was obtained from a web-based twenty-four-hour recall questionnaire. 

When the data was compiled and analyzed, it was concluded that, “usual walking pace was associated with a range of health outcomes that extended beyond CVD and all-cause mortality, to all-respiratory diseases and COPD in both men and women.” And, “our findings also show that those reporting normally walking at a slow pace had higher hazard for all-cause mortality and CVD and respiratory incident and mortality regardless the time spent walking. 

One interesting finding pertaining men was that, “surprisingly,” an average and brisk walking pace also demonstrated an increased risk of prostate cancer incidence, but not mortality. The researchers said that, while the reasons for the prostate risk association was unknown, “it has been postulated that health-conscious men (who are more likely to walk briskly), may be more likely to attend screening or report symptoms leading to increased detection of early cancers and improved prognosis.” 

The implications, if this trial is further validated, would be thatit may be prudent to also ensure promotion of a brisk walking pace, where the individual is capable, to further enhance the benefits of walking. 

In other words, its time to kick it up a notch and move to the fast lane. 

Mackie Shilstone has been involved in the wellness sports performance industry for 40 years. He is currently a fitness consultant to Serena Williamshas trained over 3,000 professional athletes, consulted a litany of professional sports franchises, and volunteers his time to train members of an elite U.S. Special Forces Unit and NOPD. Contact him at mackieshilstone.com