Large genetic study confirms link between brisk walking and slower aging
Research continues to demonstrate the ways a more active lifestyle can combat some of the effects of aging, including the onset of heart damage, memory loss and cognitive impairment. Adding to this pool of knowledge is a new study detailing the relationship between walking pace and biological age, which used a vast pool of genetic data to show that those moving more quickly may benefit from a longer healthspan.
In 2019 we looked at an interesting study probing the links between gait speed and health, demonstrating how walking more slowly in your 40s correlates with biological indicators of accelerated aging, such as lower total brain volume. Similarly, researchers at the University of Leicester have previously shown that just 10 minutes of brisk walking per day could increase someone's life expectancy by as much as three years. These scientists have now tapped into genetic data to confirm what they say is a causal link.
“Whilst 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 brisk walking pace actually causes better health," said senior author Tom Yates, senior author. "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 measured by telomeres.”
Telomeres are the caps on the end of chromosomes that protect them from damage, and for that reason are at the center of much research into the effects of aging. As our cells divide, telomeres shorten and eventually prevent the cell from dividing any further, turning them into what's known as a senescent cell. For this reason telomere length is considered a useful marker for measuring biological age.
The new study analyzed genetic data taken from the UK Biobank on more than 400,000 middle-aged adults, and compared it to information on walking speeds both self-reported and taken from activity trackers worn by participants. It is described as one of the first studies to look at these factors all together, and in doing so established a clear link between faster walking and younger biological age. The difference between those classified as fast and slow walkers was a 16-year difference, according to telomere length, the scientists write in their research paper.
“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," said lead author on the study Dr Paddy Dempsey.
The research was published in the journal Communications Biology.
Source: University of Leicester