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Faster walkers more likely to live longer

May 15, 2019

People who report that they have a slower walking pace have a lower life expectancy than fast walkers, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research Centre - a partnership between Leicester's Hospitals, the University of Leicester and Loughborough University.

The research, using data from the UK Biobank of 474,919 people recruited within the UK, found those with a habitually fast walking pace have a long life expectancy across all levels of weight status - from underweight to morbidly obese. Underweight individuals with a slow walking pace had the lowest life expectancy (an average of 64.8 years for men, 72.4 years for women). The same pattern of results was found for waist circumference measurements.

This is the first time research has associated fast walking pace with a longer life expectancy regardless of a person's body weight or obesity status.

Professor Tom Yates, professor of physical activity, sedentary behaviour and health at the University of Leicester and a lead author of the study, said: "Our findings could help clarify the relative importance of physical fitness compared to body weight on life expectancy of individuals. In other words, the findings suggest that perhaps physical fitness is a better indicator of life expectancy than body mass index (BMI), and that encouraging the population to engage in brisk walking may add years to their lives."

Dr Francesco Zaccardi, clinical epidemiologist at the Leicester Diabetes Centre - based at Leicester General Hospital - and co-author of the study, said: "Studies published so far have mainly shown the impact of body weight and physical fitness on mortality in terms of relative risk, for example a 20 per cent relative increase of risk of death for every 5 kilograms per metres squared increase, compared to a reference value of a BMI of 25 kilograms per metres squared (the threshold BMI between normal weight and overweight).

"However, it is not always easy to interpret a "relative risk". Reporting in terms of life expectancy, conversely, is easier to interpret and gives a better idea of the separate and joint importance of body mass index and physical fitness."

Last year, Professor Yates and his team showed that middle-aged people who reported that they are slow walkers were at higher risk of heart-related disease compared to the general population. The study, which also used data from the UK Biobank, showed that slow walkers were twice as likely to have a heart-related death as fast walkers, even when other risk factors such as smoking and body mass index were taken into account.
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The study, "Comparative relevance of physical fitness and adiposity on life expectancy: A UK Biobank observational study", is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and is published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings on 15 May 2019.

Notes for editors:

Link to the full article: https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(19)30063-1/fulltext

For more information contact Rachael Dowling, communications lead, NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre, on 0116 2584971 / 07950891193 or email Rachael.dowling@uhl-tr.nhs.uk

The NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) is a partnership between University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, the University of Leicester and Loughborough University. It is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

The NIHR Leicester BRC undertakes translational clinical research in priority areas of high disease burden and clinical need. These include cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and lifestyle, obesity and physical activity. There is also a cross-cutting theme for precision medicine. The BRC harnesses the power of experimental science to explore and develop ways to help prevent and treat chronic disease. It brings together 70 highly skilled researchers, 30 of which are at the forefront of clinical services delivery. By having scientists working closely with clinicians, the BRC can deliver research that is relevant to patients and the professionals who treat them. http://www.leicesterbrc.nihr.ac.uk

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the nation's largest funder of health and care research. The NIHR:
  • Funds, supports and delivers high quality research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care

  • Engages and involves patients, carers and the public in order to improve the reach, quality and impact of research

  • Attracts, trains and supports the best researchers to tackle the complex health and care challenges of the future

  • Invests in world-class infrastructure and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services

  • Partners with other public funders, charities and industry to maximise the value of research to patients and the economy
The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research, and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR commissions applied health research to benefit the poorest people in low- and middle-income countries, using Official Development Assistance funding.

This work uses data provided by patients and collected by the NHS as part of their care and support and would not have been possible without access to this data. The NIHR recognises and values the role of patient data, securely accessed and stored, both in underpinning and leading to improvements in research and care. http://www.nihr.ac.uk/patientdata

About the University of Leicester

The University of Leicester is led by discovery and innovation - an international centre for excellence renowned for research, teaching and broadening access to higher education. It is among the top 25 universities in the Times Higher Education REF Research Power rankings with 75% of research adjudged to be internationally excellent with wide-ranging impacts on society, health, culture, and the environment. The University is home to just over 20,000 students and approximately 3,000 staff.

Find out more: https://le.ac.uk/about

Our Centenary

On 11 November 2018 (Armistice Day), the University of Leicester marked 100 years since the end of the First World War. This date also marks the beginning of the story to create a university in Leicester as a living memorial to honour those who made sacrifices during the Great War. This is reflected in the University's motto Ut vitam habeant - 'so that they may have life'. The University was founded as Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland University College in 1921. This short film tells the story of our founding.

Out of this World Research

Research scientists at the University of Leicester have a long and distinguished record of discovery in space science. Every single year since 1967 has seen a Leicester-built instrument operating in space. We hold, and have held, vital roles in many space missions for space agencies including the recent BepiColombo mission to Mercury. The University is a partner in Space Park Leicester - a new hub for the analysis and commercialisation of space-enabled data and space mission development.

National Institute for Health Research

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