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Walk Faster for Better Health

Wednesday, 04 Dec 2013 03:08 PM

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Fitness experts have long extolled the virtues of walking as a heart-healthy low-impact exercise. But a new first-of-its-kind study suggests more of us need to pick up the pace to get the biggest health benefit, The New York Times reports.

The findings are based on a new analysis of the National Walkers’ Health Study, which has been tracking thousands of middle-age men and women who walk regularly for exercise since 1998.
 
Paul T. Williams, a statistician at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, compared the walking speeds — and death records — of participants in the study. His findings, published in the Public Library of Science Journal PLOS ONE, indicated the slowest walkers (covering a mile in 17 minutes) were more likely to be among the nearly 2,000 participants who died over the course of the study than those who were more fleet-footed (averaging 13.5 minutes).
 
In fact, slow-walkers were about 18 percent more likely to have died from any cause than who kept up a faster pace, and were particularly vulnerable to deaths from heart disease and dementia.
 
Interestingly, Williams also found that, on average, female walkers were faster than men in all of the categories.
 
In addition, the death rate remained high among the slowest walkers, even if they met or exceeded standard exercise guidelines, which generally suggest that for health purposes, people should engage in 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity most days of the week. For walkers, a moderately intense pace would be about 15 or 16 minutes per mile.
 
"Our results do suggest that there is a significant health benefit to pursuing a faster pace," Dr. Williams said.

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