Science & Technology

Slow walkers vulnerable to heart-related deaths

Whether it be first steps, down the aisle or just down the street, walking remains an essential mode of transportation. The speed at which one travels could produce fatal results.

Between the years of 2006 and 2010, the U.K. Biobank analyzed research focused on the association of walking pace and handgrip strength to cardiorespiratory health. Data was collected from 420,727 middle-aged adults across the United Kingdom. Ages ranged from 37 to 73 years old, with the average participant being 56 years old. Walking pace was self-reported by participants as either slow, average or brisk, while handgrip strength was calculated by a dynamometer, or a device that measures force. Moreover, the entire sample size had no cancer or heart disease diagnoses at the time the study was conducted. Six years later, 8,598 members of the study had passed away, 1,654 of whom had died from cardiovascular disease and 4,850 of whom had died from cancer. A habitual walking pace provoked this.

Men and women with a low body mass index who reported themselves as slow walkers were over twice as likely to suffer from heart-related deaths than self-reported brisk walkers. The bombshell in this discovery was not elucidated by normal risk factors like smoking or diet. Rather, an everyday walking pace seems to be an independent predictor of cardiovascular complications. In comparison, handgrip strength showed no strong links to cardiovascular disease or any other diseases among participants.

These results go from groundbreaking to lackluster, and beg the question of whether this study deserved the attention it was receiving—especially since 1.2 percent of all participants died from heart disease. If the analysis only offers answers into general fitness levels, then hoisting walking pace as a revolutionary index seems like borderline clickbait. The verdict of this study would have been more striking if walking slow could explain less predictable diseases, like cancer. Researchers considered that as a possibility, considering 4,850 of the 8,598 aforementioned deaths stemmed from cancer. This is almost three times as many who suffered from heart disease. Due to a weak connection, cancer was omitted as a possibility with its association to slow walking pace. Relating walking pace to cancer would have been surprising, considering it accounted for over half the deaths of the participants.

Despite any criticism already offered, this study was not for nothing. It concluded that self-reported walking pace could indicate an individual’s level of physical fitness. This was particularly valid for individuals with low BMI. Researchers recommend aerobic exercise training to combat mortality risk, as adults 65 years and older increased their functional capability after exercise. The study also adds to the scientific evidence proving that physical fitness is a critical component to quality of life.  Slow walkers, provided they are physically able to, can become brisk walkers with enough practice. Obtaining peak physical fitness offers a myriad of benefits other than being able to walk faster: lower cholesterol, lower risk of Type 2 diabetes, lower risk of cardiovascular diseases and stronger bones, muscles and joints

September 11, 2017

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