Walking at any pace lowers early death risk

Smiling senior women walking, exercising in sunny park
Even slow walking helps you live longer. [Photo: Getty]

Walking slowly or movement of any intensity lowers your risk of early death, according to a new study.

You probably never gave your daily walk to the bus stop much thought but, if this research is anything to go by, it could be what’s keeping you healthy.

The research, conducted by Professor Ulf Ekelund at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences in Oslo, found a sedentary lifestyle which involves sitting for nine and a half hours or more daily (excluding sleeping time) is linked to a raised risk of death.

Taking it further, the researcher looked at what level of movement is necessary to stave off this risk, through analysing the results of eight different studies involving 36,383 adults aged 40 and above, with an average age of 62.

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In the studies, subjects were asked to use wearable devices to track the volume and intensity of their activity. They were followed up for an average of 5.8 years, and 5.9% of participants died after this period.

A steep decrease in deaths was observed in those who did any level of light physical activity (up to five hours a day), and in those who did an average of 24 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a day.

Based on these results, scientists determined that higher levels of activity of any intensity were associated with a lower death risk.

As defined by NHS physical activity guidelines, light intensity activity includes slow walking, while moderate intensity activity is brisk walking, riding a bike and hiking.

Walking and your health

There is a wealth of conflicting advice about how much walking we need to do (and how fast we need to do it) to stay healthy.

Popular wisdom would suggest walking 10,000 steps daily is the optimum for our health – a figure which originated from a Japanese marketing campaign in the mid-60s.

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However, according to Prof David Bassett, head of kinesiology, recreation and sport studies at the University of Tennessee, there wasn’t any scientific basis for the figure. “They just felt that was a number that was indicative of an active lifestyle and should be healthy,” he told The Guardian.

Meanwhile, a study earlier this year found taking 5,000 steps a day is sufficient in order to increase life expectancy.

And another study found fast walkers could live up to 15 years longer than people who dawdle.