Research continues to show that a more active lifestyle can combat some of the effects of aging, including heart damage, memory loss and cognitive impairment. A new study detailing the relationship between walking speed and biological age adds to this treasure trove of knowledge. The study used a large amount of genetic data, which suggests that those who walk faster may benefit from a longer healthy lifespan.
In 2019, a study explored the link between gait speed and health, with evidence of a relationship between walking slower in the 40s and biological indicators of accelerated aging. In addition, researchers at the University of Leicester have previously shown that just 10 minutes of brisk walking per day can increase life expectancy by three years. These scientists have now used genetic data to confirm their claim of a causal relationship.
While we have previously shown that walking speed is a strong predictor of health status, we are not yet sure that brisk walking speed really leads to better health," said Tom Yates, the study's paper first. In this study, we used information from the human genetic map to show that faster walking speed may indeed lead to a younger biological age, as derived from telomere measurements."
Telomeres are known to be caps located at the ends of chromosomes that protect them from damage, making them central to many studies of the effects of aging. When our cells divide, telomeres shorten and eventually prevent the cells from dividing further, which turns them into so-called senescent cells. Therefore, telomere length is considered to be a useful marker for measuring biological age.
The new study analyzed genetic data from more than 400,000 middle-aged adults obtained from the UK Biobank, and in addition it compared it with information obtained from participants' self-reported walking speed and from exercise trackers worn by the participants. The study is believed to be the first to examine these factors together and, in doing so, additionally established a clear link between fast walking and younger biological age. In their research paper, the scientists wrote that the difference between fast and slow walkers was 16 years based on telomere length.
Dr. Paddy Dempsey, first author of the paper on the study, noted, "This suggests that habitual slower walking speeds are a simple way to identify people who are more susceptible to chronic disease or unhealthy aging, and that activity intensity may play an important role in optimizing the intervention."