Brisk walking may help to slow biological ageing, researchers have reported.
Scientists from the University of Leicester have studied genetic data from over 400,000 middle-aged UK Biobank participants and found that a faster walking pace, independent of the amount of physical activity, was associated with longer telomeres.
Telomeres are the "caps" at the end of each chromosome, and hold repetitive sequences of non-coding DNA that protect the chromosome from damage, with the researchers describing them as "similar to the way the cap at the end of a shoelace stops it from unravelling".
Reflecting on the findings, Dr Paddy Dempsey explained that people may want to consider making small changes to their daily routine, such as walking faster to the bus stop, to help boost general wellbeing.
"This suggests measures such as a habitually slower walking speed are a simple way of identifying people at greater risk of chronic disease or unhealthy ageing, and that activity intensity may play an important role in optimising interventions," he commented.
Although the relationship between telomere length and disease is not fully understood, the build-up of these cells is believed to contribute to a range of symptoms associated with ageing, such as frailty and age-related diseases.
"Whilst we have previously shown that walking pace is a very strong predictor of health status, we have not been able to confirm that adopting a brisk walking pace actually causes better health," added Professor Tom Yates. "In this study, we used information contained in people's genetic profile to show that a faster walking pace is indeed likely to lead to a younger biological age as measured by telomeres."
Full study results have been published in the journal Communications Biology.