Pick Up the Pace: Walking Speed Linked with Heart Health in Older Adults

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For older adults, walking a little faster, or for a few extra blocks, may increase the heart-healthy benefits of your stroll, a new study finds.

In the study, the researchers found that older adults who walked faster than 3 miles per hour had a 50 percent lower risk of heart disease than those who walked at a pace slower than 2 miles per hour.

In addition, those who walked an average of seven blocks daily had a 47 percent lower risk of heart disease than those who walked five or fewer blocks each week, according to the study, published today (Nov. 19) in the journal Circulation. [Heart Disease: Types, Prevention & Treatment]

"Our study of older Americans shows that, even late in life, moderate physical activity such as walking is linked to lower incidence of cardiovascular disease," Luisa Soares-Miranda, a postdoctoral student at the University of Porto in Portugal and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

"Fortunately, walking is an activity that many older adults can enjoy," Soares-Miranda said.  

In the study, the researchers looked at 4,207 men and women enrolled in the Cardiovascular Health Study, a long-running study conducted by the National Institutes of Health that is collecting data on the risk factors for heart disease in adults ages 65 and older. For the new findings, the researchers looked at 10 years of data that were collected when the men and women came in for annual physical exams. At the annual visits, the participants' average walking pace and distance were assessed, and the researchers noted any cardiovascular events that occurred, such as heart attack or stroke.  

Walking was not the only physical activity associated with heart health.

Indeed, older adults who were more active in general also had lower risk of heart attacks or stroke than those who were more sedentary, according to the study. And leisure activities, including gardening, swimming, hiking and biking, were also associated with a lower risk of heart disease.

This is certainly not the first study to link simple activities such as walking to improved health. In a study from earlier this year, researchers found that walking for 2 minutes each hour could reduce a person's risk of dying prematurely.

And for people who like to increase the intensity, a 2014 study found that running for as little as 5 to 10 minutes daily was associated with a decreased risk of death from heart disease.

Still, while a number of studies have looked at the link between physical activity and heart health, few have focused on older adults, a rapidly growing group, Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, the dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston, said in a statement.

"Our findings support the importance of continuing light to moderate exercises to improve health across the life span," Mozaffarian said. 

Follow Sara G. Miller on Twitter @SaraGMiller. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.

Sara G. Miller
Staff Writer
Sara is a staff writer for Live Science, covering health. She grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York. When she's not writing, she can be found at the library, checking out a big stack of books.