Slow Walkers May Be At Risk Of Accelerated Aging, New Study Finds

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Would you consider yourself a brisk walker or a "stop and smell the roses" kind of stroller? Your walking pace might be worth noting, as the speed might offer insights into how well you'll age later in life. 

A new study published in JAMA Network Open found that slow walkers might be at risk of accelerated aging, as they analyzed 904 participants for the duration of their entire lives, up until age 45. 

After these participants' most recent MRI exams, the researchers found that slower walkers had lower brain size, lower brain thickness, less brain surface area, and a high amount of white matter caused by decreased blood flow.

Scientific jargon aside, slow walkers' brains appeared to be somewhat older.

They looked older, too, according to a panel of eight screeners who assessed each participant's "facial age." It seems as if a person's walking pace not only correlates to their brain health but to their skin health as well. 

"The thing that's really striking is that this is in 45-year-old people, not the geriatric patients who are usually assessed with such measures," said lead researcher Line J.H. Rasmussen.

Walking speed has already been studied in older individuals as a marker of health and longevity, as slow walkers between the ages of 70 and 80 showed higher mortality rates than faster walkers of the same age group. But researchers are now analyzing the walking speed of younger individuals to determine similar health measures, which means assessing people's walking speed can predict the aging process long before signs of aging and decline start to arise.  

Before you start anxiously timing your morning strolls, there's another layer associated with this study. When these participants were just 3 years old, they took neurocognitive tests that actually correctly predicted who would become slow walkers. These tests included IQ scores, understanding language, frustration tolerance, motor skills, and emotional control, and they all predicted the walking speed these individuals would have at age 45.

While the thought of predicting who will face accelerated aging at a mere 3 years old is a little eerie, these findings could help us proactively diagnose and keep an eye out for certain health complications before physical symptoms even arise. "We may have a chance here to see who's going to do better health-wise in later life," Rasmussen notes. 

We know that walking has a variety of health benefits, from boosting energy levels to calming anxiety, but it's your pace that might be crucial for determining important markers of health. While walking faster won't necessarily mitigate the risk of accelerated aging, the next time you find yourself on a stroll, it may be worth it to monitor your speed. If you notice a little spring in your step, you may very well live a longer life.

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