What your walking pace says about your health

A huge walking study was recently done linking how long it takes you to walk a mile and your likelihood of premature death.

Woman walking with Christmas wreath on the sidewalk

See what your walking speed says about you (Photo Masterfile).

Walking isn’t just an excellent exercise that keeps us trim; the way we walk may also offer clues about our health and longevity.

Recreational walkers that keep a brisk pace live longer than those that adopt a slow and steady pace, reports the New York Times. Very slow walkers were 44 percent more likely to die than those that walked quickly regardless of the frequency of their walking. They were also 18 percent more likely to have died from heart disease or dementia.

The correlation between a brisk walking pace and overall longevity came out of an analysis of the U.S. National Walkers’ Health Study, a database that consists of information taken from nearly 40,000 people that walk for exercise. That information was then compared with statistics taken from the National Death Index.

The findings were published online this week in the academic journal PLoS One.

So how slow is too slow when it comes to walking? Those walkers that possessed the highest mortality risk took nearly 24 minutes to complete a mile. (Slow walkers took anywhere from 17 to 24 minutes to cover a mile.) By contrast, the fastest walkers managed to keep a good clip, managing a mile in around 13.5 minutes.

Walkers that take longer to walk a mile may not be slow by design suggests the study. In fact, as the New York Times piece points out, their pace may be a symptom of an underlying and as of yet undiagnosed health condition.

The study’s findings thus offer one more way to take a proactive and preventive approach to disease and illness. To gauge your walking fitness, both the article and the study suggest people take the “six minute walking test” that the research drew from.

For the test, you won’t have to walk a mile, just 400 metres (look for a nearby school track). Using a stopwatch, time how long it takes you to complete 400 metres. If it takes you six minutes or more then you fall into the slower, 24-minute-mile category.

Don’t fret if you’re in the slow category, though. Just see your doctor to rule out any physical barriers, and if given the all-clear, start moving more quickly.

How often do you go for a walk? Tell us about your time and distance in the comment section below.