Walking at a faster pace can halve your risk of heart disease and stroke

In old age, those of us who are most active have a significantly lower risk of future heart attacks and stroke, according to research carried out at Tufts University in the US.

The researchers found that increasing the pace of a daily walk from two to three mph lowers the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and cardiovascular disease (CVD) by over 50 per cent.

The study looked at the exercise habits of 4,207 American men and women, with an average age of 73. The authors say that although older people are advised to take part in regular physical activity, there has been little supportive empirical evidence until now.

The study’s senior author, Dariush Mozaffarian, said: ‘While national guidelines recommend that older adults engage in regular physical activity, surprisingly few studies have evaluated potential cardiovascular benefits after age 75, a rapidly growing age group. Our findings confirm a beneficial relationship between walking and leisure activities and cardiovascular disease late in life. These results are especially relevant because, with advancing age, the ability to perform vigorous types of activity often decreases. Our findings support the importance of continuing light to moderate exercise to improve health across the lifespan.’

The researchers found that, compared with those who walk for a quarter of a mile a day, those who walked a third of a mile (or more) reduce their risk of coronary heart disease by 36 per cent and stroke by 54 per cent.

Those who still carry out energy-intensive domestic chores such as lawn-mowing, raking, gardening, swimming, biking and hiking, also had a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.

The study’s first author, Luisa Soares-Miranda, said: ‘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. It appears that whether one increases the total distance or the pace of walking, CVD risk is lowered. Fortunately, walking is an activity that many older adults can enjoy.’