Can Walking Pace Predict Risk Of Heart Disease?

Health organizations around the world, including World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Heart Association (AHA), recommend adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week. That breaks down at least 30 minutes per day, 5 times a week. Alternatively, they can do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week, or an equivalent combination of moderate – and vigorous-intensity activity.

Playing a game of badminton, riding a bike on flat ground, or simply walking at brisk pace are good examples of moderate-intensity activities. Walking is the simplest way to work out and can be done almost anywhere. Without needing special equipment or paying gym fees, one can simply walk to keep fit.

There are good reasons to walk. For instance, walking will improve the mood, help ease stress, burn calories and lose weight, and assist one to sleep better at night. More importantly, walking have cardiovascular benefits. Like other forms of regular moderate exercise, walking improves cardiac risk factors like cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, vascular stiffness and inflammation, and mental stress. It can also help protect against other diseases such as dementia, peripheral artery disease, depression, and colon cancer.

General public is always advised to make walking part of one’s daily life. For example, one can walk to work and to the store. Instead of fighting for the closest parking space or paying extra for a nearby parking lot, one can always park farther away and walk to the destination. Or people who take bus or subway can get off a few stops before the destination. One can choose to go for a walk at lunchtime instead of spending all the time in the cafeteria.

Most of the people do not pay attention on how fast they walk. But researchers from the University of Leicester suggests that walking speed might be associated with the risk for developing heart disease. The findings were published November 14, 2017 in ‘European Heart Journal’.

Data from 420,727 middle-aged adults in the United Kingdom was analyzed, and it was found that over a 6-year period (2006 to 2010), those with a slower walking pace were twice as likely to die from heart disease as those who were brisk walkers. The analysis also shows that participants with a low body mass index (BMI) faced the highest risk, suggesting people who were malnourished or had high levels of muscle tissue loss with age were more susceptible. Furthermore, slow walkers also had low fitness levels, which could explain their higher risk of heart disease death.

In the beginning of the study, none of the participants had signs of heart disease. They were asked to rate their typical walking pace as either slow, steady, or brisk. They also did an exercise test in a laboratory so the researchers could gauge their fitness level. Over the study period, there were 8,598 deaths, and of these 1,654 died from heart disease. Handgrip strength was also analyzed to determine if it was a good predictor of cancer or heart-related deaths. Researchers found no consistent link between walking speed and cancer-related deaths or between handgrip strength and heart- and cancer-related deaths.

Results of the findings reflect what experts have known for a long time: the fitness and strength levels can help predict our overall risk of developing heart disease. In fact, another study published April 13, 2020 in journal ‘Mayo Clinic Proceedings’ confirmed that the addition of grip strength or usual walking pace to existing risk scores results in improved cardiovascular risk prediction. The study involves a total of 406,834 participants in the United Kingdom, who did not have any cardiovascular disease. Baseline measurements were made between March 13, 2006 and October 1, 2010.

Advice from health professionals is that if people find that they are walking slower than they used to, or if they feel like they are losing strength over time, they should inform their doctors, as this might be a subtle symptom of heart disease. Otherwise, people should consider increasing their exercise level to benefit overall health.


Published on on 03/09/20

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