Health

Stop the clocks: Brisk walking may slow biological aging process

Fig. 1: Associations of self-reported walking pace with LTL. Data presented as β-coefficient (95% CI) for “average” (n = 212,032) and “brisk” (n = 166,641) walking pace relative to “slow” (26,804) walking pace (reference). Model 1: Adjusted for age, sex and white blood cell count. Model 2: Model 1 was adjusted for education, employment status, Townsend index, food intake, salt intake, regularity of adding salt, alcohol intake, smoking status and average sleep duration. Model 3: Model 2 was also adjusted for total physical activity (MET-min/week). Model 4: Model 3 was additionally adjusted for body mass index. Credit: Communications Biology (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s42003-022-03323-x

A new study of genetic information published Wednesday, April 20, by more than 400,000 UK adults revealed a clear correlation between walking speed and a genetic marker that indicates biological age.

Confirming a causal link between walking pace and leucocyte telomere length (LTL)—an indicator of biological age—the Leicester-based team of researchers estimate that a lifetime of brisk walking could lead to the equivalent of 16 years younger biological age by midlife.

Researchers from the University of Leicester’s National Institute for Health Research, (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research Center found that a faster walking pace was associated to longer telomeres. This was independent of how much physical activity participants were doing.

Telomeres, which are located at the end each chromosome’s chromosome, contain repetitive sequences of noncoding DNA that protect it from damage. It is similar to a shoelace’s end cap, which stops it from unraveling.

Each time a cell divides, these telomeres become shorter—until a point where they become so short that the cell can no longer divide, known as “replicative senescence.” LTL is considered a strong marker of biological age by scientists, regardless of when an individual was birthed.

Although the relationship between telomeres length and disease is not well understood, it is believed that the accumulation of these senescent cells can contribute to a range symptoms we associate age with, such as frailty or age-related illnesses.

Although the health, mental, and physical benefits of walking are well-documented. This study is the first to compare genetic information with both self-reported walking speed and actual measurements of movement intensity using wearable activity trackers.

Dr. Paddy Dempsey, a Lecturer and Research Fellow at University of Leicester, is the lead author of the study published in Communications Biology. He stated, “Previous research regarding the associations between walking pace, exercise and telomere length is limited by inconsistent findings and lack of high quality data.

“This research uses genetic information to strengthen the evidence for a causal relationship between faster walking paces, and longer telomeres. Data from wrist-worn activity tracking devices that measure habitual physical activity supported a stronger role for habitual activity intensity (e.g. faster walking) in relation with telomere length.

“This suggests that measures like a slower pace of walking are a simple way to identify people at greater risk of developing chronic diseases or unhealthy aging. Also, activity intensity may play a significant role in optimizing interventions. For example, people who are able to walk faster to the bus stop could increase their overall walking. This requires more investigation.

Researchers from the University of Leicester found that just 10 minutes of brisk exercise per day can lead to a longer life expectancy. This is in comparison to slow walkers who have a life expectancy of up to 20 years.

This study shows that there is a causal relationship between brisk walking, telomere length, and not the other direction.

Tom Yates, senior author, and Professor of Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior at the University of Leicester and NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Center added: “Whilst previous research has shown that walking speed is a strong predictor of health status and can be used to measure it, we have not been able confirm that walking faster actually improves your health. This study used genetic information from people to show that a faster pace when walking is more likely to lead to a shorter biological age (measured by telomeres).

“Investigation into a UK Biobank cohort reveals Causal associations of self-reported walking pace with Telomere length” is published in Communications Biology.


Study shows that slow walking pace is a good predictor of heart-related death


More information:
Paddy C. Dempsey and colleagues, Investigation of a UK cohort of biobanks reveals causal associations between self-reported walking speed and telomere length Communications Biology (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s42003-022-03323-x

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University of Leicester


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