When it comes to your long-term health, slow and steady may lose the race. That’s because the speed at which you walk may be a better indicator of your long-term health than your weight or body-mass index, says a new study.

And for people who are middle-aged or older, the faster you walk, the longer you might live.

The study, led by a group of researchers from the University of Leicester in a report published by Mayo Clinic Proceedings, analyzed a massive compilation of medical information courtesy of the UK Biobank, collected between 2006 and 2016.

The UK Biobank study surveyed nearly 500,000 middle-aged people in the U.K. (average age 58).

It gathered various health data such as body-fat percentage, hand-grip strength, waist circumference, and body-mass index.

It also asked participants if they would describe their walking pace as slow, steady/average, or brisk.

Those numbers contradict the common assumption that overweight people are at higher risk of health problems than their lower-weight peers

In analyzing this information, the research team found that self-reporting brisk walkers had a longer life expectancy across all levels of BMI.

Brisk-walking women had an average life expectancy of 86.7 to 87.8 years; the average for brisk-walking men was 85.2 to 86.8 years.

In comparison, the slow walkers had shorter life expectancies.

Surprisingly, the shortest-lived group were slow walkers who had a BMI lower than 20, which is considered a normal to underweight number.

Women in this group had an average life expectancy of 72.4 years, dropping to 64.8 years for men.

Those numbers contradict the common assumption that overweight people are at higher risk of health problems than their lower-weight peers, regardless of the former group’s level of activity.

They also suggest that physical fitness is a primary indicator of potential longevity.

Researchers haven’t yet established a direct causal connection between walking speed and life expectancy.  

“Increasing your walking pace in everyday life is a good way to increase fitness levels, particularly in those who are slow walkers.”
Tom Yates
University of Leicester

But as reported by Newsweek, team member Tom Yates (professor of physical activity, sedentary behavior, and health at the University of Leicester) believes that upping your pace is a good way to get healthier.

“While there are likely to be multiple factors contributing to the strength of our findings, it is well established that increasing your fitness is one of the best things you can do for your health,” Yates said.

“Increasing your walking pace in everyday life is a good way to increase fitness levels, particularly in those who are slow walkers.”

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