How to live longer: Walking ‘briskly’ could add up to 20 years to your lifespan – study
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Ageing scientists have long emphasised environmental factors behind longevity, suggesting most centenarians couple a healthy diet with a regular exercise routine. Many of the benefits of exercise have been attributed to its ability to buffer telomeres. Now, new findings suggest that walking at a faster pace could slow the deterioration of DNA and turn the clock back decades.
The new study of more than 400,000 has highlighted a link between walking pace and genetic markers of biological age.
The team from the University of Leicester analysed genetic data to determine how walking impacts the marker for biological age.
They demonstrated a significant causal link between brisk walking and telomere length, with a lifetime of activity leading to the equivalent of 16 years of biological age by mid-life.
In a previous study led by the team, it was found that brisk walkers lived up to 20 years longer than slow walkers.
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What’s more, the effects of a faster walking pace were independent of the duration of physical activity.
Doctor Paddy Dempsey, Lecturer and Research Fellow at the University of Leicester, said: “Previous research on associations between walking pace, physical activity and telomere length has been limited by inconsistent findings and a lack of high-quality data.
“This research uses genetic data to provide stronger evidence for a causal link between the fast walking pace and longer telomere length.”
Telomeres are strands of DNA that shield the ends of chromosomes.
Each time a cell divides, the telomeres shorten till they eventually become too short that the cell can no longer divide.
Environmental factors such as unhealthy lifestyle habits are associated with shorter telomeres, which in turn are linked to lower life expectancy and a higher risk of chronic disease.
Doctor Dempsey continued: “Data from wrist-worn wearable activity tracking devices used to measure habitual physical activity also supported a stronger role of habitual activity intensity in relationship to telomere length.
“This suggests measures such as 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.
“For example, in addition to increasing overall walking, those who are able could aim to increase the number of steps completed in a given time. However, this requires further investigation.”
Tom Yates, Professor of Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour and Health at the University of Leicester and NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre, added: “While 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 bride walking pace actually causes better health.
“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 measles by telomeres.”
The study is one of the first to probe the link between self-reported walking speeds and telomere length.
Participants’ pace was determined by measuring movement intensity from wearable activity tracking devices worn by participants.
Brisk walking has often been overlooked for its health benefits, but there is evidence it can help lose body fat and help manage various conditions.
Alongside its benefits for telomere health, the activity has been shown to improve muscle endurance, strengthen bones, and improve cardiovascular fitness.
It is also deemed instrumental in the prevention of various conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
In previous research, the Leicester-based team had shown that as little as 10 minutes of brisk walking a day was linked to a longer lifespan.
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