Walking is the most commonly performed physical activity in the U.S. However, it’s often overlooked how fast people walk. A number of studies have shown that higher intensity activity improves health to a greater degree than lower intensity activity. Therefore, it might not be surprising if walking speed was a strong predictor of health. Are there any studies that have looked specifically at walking speed?
One study calculated the walking speed of 38,981 participants and tracked the health outcomes of each over an average of 9.4 years. The researchers found that for every additional minute/mile of walking speed, all-cause mortality increased by 1.8%, cardiovascular disease increased by 2.4%, ischemic heart disease increased by 2.8%, heart failure increased by 6.5%, hypertensive heart disease increased by 6.2%, diabetes increased by 6.3% and dementia increased by 6.6% (after adjusting for total energy expended and potential confounders like smoking and prior heart attack). Participants who walked slower than a 24-minute mile pace had a 44.3% increased risk of all-cause mortality, a 43.9% increased risk of cardiovascular disease and a 5-fold increased risk of dementia. Interestingly, even these participants met the current exercise guidelines for number of hours walked per week.
This leaves the question though: is it disease that’s causing the slow walking or is slow walking causing the disease? While the researchers controlled for many variables, slower walking speed could still be predicting early signs of disease in some cases. For example, “the greater risk for heart failure mortality with slower walking could be a consequence of cardiac insufficiency at an early, preclinical, stage of the disease.” Even so, this study clearly shows that increasing your walking speed will improve your health (maybe even more so for people with early signs of heart disease).
So, if you’re a slow walker (like me), try to pick up the pace! You probably won’t turn into a speed walker overnight, but slowly increasing your speed should pay dividends down the line and get you where you’re going quicker in process!
Elbaz, Alexis, et al. “Association of walking speed in late midlife with mortality: results from the Whitehall II cohort study.” Age 35.3 (2013): 943-952.
Williams, Paul T., and Paul D. Thompson. “The relationship of walking intensity to total and cause-specific mortality. Results from the National Walkers’ Health Study.” (2013): e81098.
Wen, Chi Pang, et al. “Minimum amount of physical activity for reduced mortality and extended life expectancy: a prospective cohort study.” The Lancet 378.9798 (2011): 1244-1253.