Time to get outside: study finds brisk walking slows biological aging process

With warmer weather on the horizon, now is a great time to head outside for a walk.

We've known for a while that exercise is good for health and well-being, and that can be especially true for people who exercise outside, even for short periods of time.

A recent study finds all you need to do is walk, preferably at an elevated pace.

According to the paper, which appears in the journal Communications Biology, a lifetime of brisk walking could translate to an age reduction equivalent to 16 years by the time an individual reaches midlife.

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The study analyzed 400,000 UK adults, drawing a "clear link" between walking pace and leucocyte telomere length (LTL), an indicator of biological age. Telomeres shorten with age, but researchers associated brisk walking with longer telomeres.

“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," Dr. Paddy Dempsey, a lecturer and research fellow at the University of Leicester, and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

“This suggests measures such as a habitually slower walking speed are a simple way of identifying people at greater risk of chronic disease or unhealthy aging, and that activity intensity may play an important role in optimizing 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 (e.g. by walking faster to the bus stop). However, this requires further investigation.”

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Previous work from the University of Leicester suggests that ten minutes of brisk daily walking can add 20 years to life expectancy, compared to the life expectancy of slow walkers.

Get Outside!

Individuals who choose to walk outside may be able to reap additional health benefits, according to several studies.

"Many of us have heard that nature is good for us, but what many people don't know is there is an increase in research that tells us it actually changes things like our biochemistry and our brain chemistry in a positive way," psychologist Joti Samra told The Weather Network in 2019.

"Our blood pressure is reduced, our heart rate slows down, and we are more present, which all offers positive impacts on our life."

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Editor's note: This article was originally published in April 2022.

Thumbnail courtesy of Pexels/Daniel Reche