The Way You Walk Can Predict Your Risk of Death from Heart Disease—Here’s Why

Updated: Jun. 16, 2024

The quicker you are at this healthy habit, the more likely you won't suffer from the leading cause of death for both men and women.

heartr.classen/ShutterstockWalking is the most popular form of exercise going—and it comes with a long list of benefits. But we rarely think about how we walk. Get ready: Your pace may have a lot to do with how much you benefit from this valuable activity.

In a report published August 21st in an issue of the European Heart Journal, a team of scientists from the United Kingdom examined more than 420,000 middle-aged adults in the UK for six years. At the start of the study, none of the volunteers had signs of heart disease. The team asked the volunteers to rate their typical walking pace as slow, steady, or brisk. Additionally, the volunteers did an exercise test in a laboratory so the researchers could gauge their fitness level.

Over the study period, nearly 8,600 of the participants died, and of these, about 1,650 died from heart disease. The researchers found that middle-aged adults who said they typically walk at a slow pace were about twice as likely to die from heart disease during the study compared to those who reported walking at a brisk pace. And the findings held even after the researchers accounted for risk factors like poor exercise habits or diet, and whether they smoked or drank alcohol. The researchers found the risk of heart disease to be the greatest for those with the lowest BMI, likely because they were malnourished or had high levels of muscle tissue loss with age.

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“Our study was interested in the links between whether someone said they walked at a slow, steady or brisk pace and whether that could predict their risk of dying from heart disease or cancer in the future,” Professor Tom Yates, a Reader in Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour and Health at the University of Leicester and Principal Investigator for the study, said in a press release.

“We also found that self-reported walking pace was strongly linked to an individual’s objectively measured exercise tolerance,” said Yates, “further suggesting walking pace is a good measure of overall physical fitness. Therefore, self-reported walking pace could be used to identify individuals who have low physical fitness and high mortality risk that would benefit from targeted physical exercise interventions.”

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Some guidelines for picking up your pace is to first check with your doctor to make sure your body can take the strain. Then try for a clip at which you can carry on a conversation, but cannot sing. That will be a different speed for someone just starting and someone who’s a regular walker, but it will give you a sense of how fast to go to protect your heart.