Live Longer: Walking Faster Can Help, According to a New Study

Simply picking up the pace at which you walk could help you live longer, according to a new study.

Walking at an average pace was found to cut the risk of death overall by a fifth, while speeding up to a brisk or fast pace was associated with a cut in the risk of death of almost a quarter. The researchers found almost the same results for cutting the risk of death caused by heart disease.

"A fast pace is generally five to seven kilometers per hour, but it really depends on a walker's fitness levels; an alternative indicator is to walk at a pace that makes you slightly out of breath or sweaty when sustained," Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis, from the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre and School of Public Health, said in a statement.

And the older a person is, the more profound the effects, according to the international team of researchers. Those age 60 or older who walked at an average pace saw their risk of death from heart disease decrease by 46 percent, and 53 percent for those who walked fast. Walking fast did not appear to reduce the risk of dying of cancer, however.

Walking faster can extend a person's life span, according to a new study. Getty Images

To find out whether a person's walking pace affected their mortality rate as well as the risk of mortality caused by cardiovascular disease and cancer, researchers investigated 11 studies completed in England and Scotland between 1994 and 2008. Over 50,200 participants reported how fast they walked. The researchers then adjusted the data to take into account factors including each individual's age, sex and body mass index (BMI). Their findings were published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

"Assuming our results reflect cause and effect, these analyses suggest that increasing walking pace may be a straightforward way for people to improve heart health and risk for premature mortality, providing a simple message for public health campaigns to promote," said Stamatakis.

He said the findings were particularly important to those who felt they didn't have time to walk more, as walking faster can be a good way to raise the heart rate.

Philippa Hobson, senior cardiac nurse at the cardiovascular health charity British Heart Foundation, told Newsweek: "There have been lots of studies highlight the benefits of walking on heart health, but we can't prove you can walk your way to a longer life.

"Walking briskly improves the blood supply to the heart muscle, so it can be said that it's beneficial to those able to walk at a faster pace," she said, adding those who want to adopt a new exercise regime should should first check with their doctor.

The research followed a major study by Harvard University which revealed five habits that could extend the average person's life span by more than a decade.

Factors including not smoking, maintaining a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9, and exercising moderately for at least 30 minutes per day were linked to a longer life. A diet low in red meat, sugars and saturated fats but high in vegetables, fruits and whole grains had the same association, as did consuming no more than 15 grams of alcohol per day for women, and 30 grams for men.

This piece has been updated with comment from Philippa Hobson.