Fast walkers tend to have a longer life expectancy than slower walkers, regardless of the person’s body weight or obesity status, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research Centre in the U.K.
The research, using data of 474,919 people from the UK Biobank, shows that people with a habitually fast walking pace have a long life expectancy across all levels of weight status, from underweight to morbidly obese. Underweight individuals with a slow walking pace had the lowest life expectancy (an average of 64.8 years for men, 72.4 years for women). The same pattern of results was found for waist circumference measurements.
“Our findings could help clarify the relative importance of physical fitness compared to body weight on life expectancy of individuals,” said Professor Tom Yates, professor of physical activity, sedentary behavior and health at the University of Leicester in England and a lead author of the study.
“In other words, the findings suggest that perhaps physical fitness is a better indicator of life expectancy than body mass index (BMI), and that encouraging the population to engage in brisk walking may add years to their lives.”
In another recent study, Yates and his team showed that middle-aged people who reported that they are slow walkers were at higher risk of heart-related disease compared to the general population.
That study, which also used data from the UK Biobank, showed that slow walkers were twice as likely to have a heart-related death as fast walkers, even when other risk factors such as smoking and body mass index were taken into account.
“Studies published so far have mainly shown the impact of body weight and physical fitness on mortality in terms of relative risk…” said Dr. Francesco Zaccardi, clinical epidemiologist at the Leicester Diabetes Centre and co-author of the study.
“However, it is not always easy to interpret a ‘relative risk,’” he said. “Reporting in terms of life expectancy, conversely, is easier to interpret and gives a better idea of the separate and joint importance of body mass index and physical fitness.”
The study is published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.