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a woman brisk walking alongside a wall

Could walking faster mean living longer?

A study recently published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings has found that walking briskly could add 10-20 years to your life! The project was co-authored by Tom Yates, professor of physical activity, sedentary behaviour and health at the University of Leicester and Dr. Francesco Zaccardi, clinical epidemiologist at the University of Leicester. 

The study lasted for over 10 years and included nearly 475,000 participants. Researchers wanted to see how different measures of physical fitness – specifically walking pace and hand grip strength – are associated with life expectancy, across different levels of obesity. This research area was chosen because there is ongoing debate about the importance of physical fitness and obesity on health outcomes. Researchers measured participant’s walking paces (slow, normal/steady, brisk/fast), hand grip strength and relative body weight using different measures of obesity including body mass index (BMI). Body Mass Index is the measure of body fat based on height and weight and is often used as a key indicator in determining an individual’s health.

Interestingly, the authors found that a person’s walking pace of slow, steady or brisk, was a more powerful predictor of one’s life expectancy than BMI was. Participants who reported having a brisk walking pace had a long-life expectancy, regardless of their BMI. Women’s life expectancy in this category ranged from 86.7 to 87.8 years and men ranged from 85.2 to 86.8 years. Individuals who reported slow walking paces had the slowest life expectancy with 72.4 years for women and 64.8 years for men.

“The findings suggest that perhaps physical fitness is a better indicator of life expectancy than BMI and that encouraging the population to engage in brisk walking may add years to their lives,” stated Yates.

It’s important to note that the study involved self-reported walking paces. It’s possible that there may be an inconsistency between what the researchers would define as slow, steady and brisk walking and what participants considered slow, steady or brisk walking. Nevertheless, this research serves as more scientific evidence for the power of walking!

In July of 2019, many news stations covered the fascinating findings from this study. In Globe and Mail’s coverage, Gareth Nock, national team training coach, provided readers with some “Proper Walking Tips”:

  • Wear the right shoes: Look for sneakers or walking shoes that are flexible and have a good level of support.
  • Watch your posture: Stand tall with your eyes up and your shoulders back. Many people tend to let their heads fall forward so focus on rolling your shoulders back and down and looking ahead. Focus on drawing your navel towards your spine (abdominals braced) to support your lower back and overall posture.
  • Swing your arms: Arms should swing naturally and loosely from the shoulders. Move the opposite arm to the leg that is stepping forward and keep your wrists straight, your hands unclenched and your elbows close to your sides.

Interesting read on hiking and backpack weigh

In recent decades, research shows that by the end of their teen years, close to 60 percent of youths experience at least one low-back pain episode. This may be because of the improper use and weight of the backpacks. Here’s an interesting read we came across that may help you plan your summer hiking trips with friends and children. The article asks this important question: How much should your backpack weigh?

Please note there are lots of determining factors for pack weight. It is tough to give an exact weight recommendation for every hiker. Talk to your physicians to explore your personal options. According to the original article, below are some general guidelines when determining your pack weight:

  • A loaded backpacking pack should not weigh more than about 20 percent of your body weight. (If you weigh 150 pounds, your pack should not exceed 30 pounds for backpacking.)
  • A loaded day hiking pack should not weigh more than about 10 percent of your body weight. (If you weigh 150 pounds, your pack should not exceed 15 pounds for hiking.)

Following these guidelines will keep your pack at a manageable weight. However, the weight ratio may not work for everyone. The following excerpt includes factors that may affect the overall weight of your pack:

  • Trip duration: The longer your trip, the more food, water and fuel you’ll need to carry, which, of course, adds weight to your pack. Even on multiday adventures, you’ll still want your pack close to 20 percent of your body weight, so you’ll need to be extra thoughtful about the gear and clothing you’re carrying to compensate for all that extra gear.
  • Season/weather: If you’re heading out in frigid temps, you’ll need to have warmer, heavier clothing and gear than if you’re trekking in sunny summer weather.
  • Personal preference: Some people value comfort at camp and are willing to accept the inherent weight that comes with hauling in luxuries like a hammock, extra clothes and a thick, cushy sleeping pad. Others are OK with wearing the same clothes for days on end and sleeping on a lightweight pad.

Tips for reducing backpack weight

  1. Know your base weight (how much your loaded pack weighs, minus “consumables,” such as food, water, and fuel). The base weight includes items with a consistent weight that do not change from trip to trip.
  2. Weigh your gear to determine what to bring or remove from your pack. Keeping a spreadsheet is helpful for comparing items and planning your adventure.
  3. Replace old gear with lighter and smart gear. For example, bring a packable down jacket, clothing with SPF and UV protection, or emergency freeze-dried food.
  4. Eliminate unnecessary items (i.e., cellphone charger, selfie sticks).
  5. Repackage items or use travel-sized items (i.e., take granola bars out of boxes, pack nuts into small bags).
  6. Share the weight between your hiking buddies or take turns carrying heavier items.

Exercising to reduce your risk of falling

Everyone is at risk for falls, no matter what your age is. Falls can happen at home, in the community, or while you are walking or doing other activities. The best activities to reduce falls include those that improve muscle strength in the legs and improve balance, posture, and stamina. Muscles tend to get weaker and balance becomes harder if we don’t continue to remain active.

Below is an excerpt from Vancouver Coastal Health’s “Prevent falls: Stay on your feet!” brochure on how to improve muscle strength and balance:

Check your leg strength:

  • Can you get out of a chair safely without using your arms?
  • Can you do it three times in a row?

Check your balance:

  • For safety, try this test while standing near the kitchen counter. Can you safely stand on one leg for 5-12 seconds without holding on to anything or anyone?

What you can do:

  • Get up from a chair three times in a row, without using your arms, whenever you can.
  • Go up and down stairs to keep your legs strong. Make sure you use the hand rail.
  • Walk as much as you can. If you become tired quickly or feel unsteady, a four-wheeled walker with a seat and a basket is a great idea. Have a professional help you buy the right one.
  • Bend and straighten your legs when you are watching TV. Add small weights to your ankles.
  • Mark out a walking path in your house if the weather is bad. Imagine you are walking to Hawaii.
  • Call your community centre, seniors centre, or church to find out what activity programs are offered.
  • Do a few exercises when you make yourself a cup of tea or get a glass of water.
  • See the Strength and Balance Exercises on the next page.
  • Make your activities fun.

Exercises

These simple exercises can help improve your strength and balance. Only do the exercises you feel safe and comfortable doing. It may be safer and easier to do just a couple of exercises at a time. If you have increased pain or a significant increase in shortness of breath, stop exercising immediately. Stand up straight. Hold onto the edge of the kitchen counter if you need to for safety. As this gets easier, try to hold on less.

Infographic showing exercises you can do at your desk

Here are some of the recommended physical activity programs, often found at your local community center:

  • Balance training, e.g., Tai Chi
  • Strength training – using weights or resistance
  • Walking
  • Water fitness
  • Dancing

Remember: Strength and balance can reduce your risk of falling by 50%.

Speak with your doctor or health care provider about any medical condition which may affect your ability to do these exercises.

Infographic showing exercises you can do at your desk

Please click here to read the full brochure or visit Vancouver Coastal Health Fall and Injury Prevention online at www.fallprevention.vch.ca.