Walking faster lowers risk of heart disease - study

It's time to get your walk on.
It's time to get your walk on. Photo credit: File

Walking at a faster pace has been linked to reducing the risk of heart disease, new research has found. 

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

The research was conducted by the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Medicine and Health, the University of Cambridge, University of Edinburgh, University of Limerick and the University of Ulster. 

Walking at an average pace was found to be associated with a 20 percent risk reduction for all-cause mortality compared with walking at a slow pace, while walking at a fast pace was associated with a risk reduction of 24 percent. 

A similar result was found for risk of heart disease mortality, with a reduction of 24 percent walking at an average pace and 21 percent walking at a fast pace. 

For people aged 60 years or over, the research found that average pace walkers experienced a 46 percent reduction in risk of death from cardiovascular causes, and fast pace walkers a 53 percent reduction.

"A fast pace is generally five to seven 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 slightly out of breath or sweaty when sustained," lead author Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis from the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre and School of Public Health says. 

How did they get the results?

The researchers took 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 - and adjusted the results for factors such as age, sex and body mass. 

"The specific role of walking pace - independent from the total physical activity a person undertakes - has received little attention until now," Professor Stamatakis says. 

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

However, there was no evidence to suggest pace had a significant influence on cancer mortality. 

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

Professor Stamatakis says the research suggests that "increasing walking pace may be a straightforward way for people to improve heart health and risk for premature mortality - providing a simple message for public health campaigns to promote".

"Especially in situations when walking more isn't possible due to time pressures or a less walking-friendly environment, walking faster may be a good option to get the heart rate up - one that most people can easily incorporate into their lives."