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Study: walkers, pick up the pace for better health

pick-up-the-paceMost of our content tends to be running-heavy, but here at WalkJogRun we’re big fans of walking, too. After all, it’s the most basic and accessible form of exercise.

To boot, two key studies released earlier this year found that, when you cover the same number of miles per week, running and walking are equally as effective in lowering the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, depression, and other chronic conditions. Walking has many other benefits, too.

What the newest research says
Now, a scientist on one of the studies and the author behind the National Runners’ Health Study and National Walkers’ Health Study, Paul Williams, Ph.D, is adding an asterisk to that research: when walking for health benefits, intensity really matters. Specifically, the faster you walk, the better your long-term health.

The study, which measured the new cases of disease and death in more than 38,000 walkers over a 9-year period found that each additional minute added to the walkers’ average pace increased the risk of death by 1.8%. Similar increases were found for conditions including heart disease, diabetes, and dementia. Basically, this means that people who walk an average of 16:00 minute miles have a higher risk of illness and death than walkers who average 15:00 minute miles. The slower you walk, the higher your risks and vice versa.

Note that the researchers said this was true even among walkers who met the federal guidelines for physical activity – which equals at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week.

When walking, make it brisk
Don’t worry – this doesn’t mean you have to take up speed walking. Brisk walking simply means that you’re breathing harder than you typically do on a walk. Brisk walking still counts as a “moderate intensity” workout (whereas jogging and running are in the “vigorous intensity” category).

If you want to become a faster walker, approach it the same way as runners do: by doing speedwork. Start by adding speed intervals to your walks. Every few minutes, pick up the pace for 30 seconds or so and repeat. As you get fitter, you’ll be able to increase the length and frequency of your faster walking segments. Eventually, you’ll notice your average walking pace getting faster. Note that every walk doesn’t have to be intense – just like with running, it’s best to take one “easy” day where you walk a slower pace each week. Here are some other ways to give your walking workouts a boost.

The researchers also mentioned that the more miles walkers covered each week, the better their health. The bottom line? When it comes to walking, pick up the pace and tack on the miles for the most benefits.

Written by Jen Matz

Related: more walking tips from WalkJogRun