January 01, 2021

Walk in the fast lane for improved fitness and health

Going for a walk — of any duration or speed — beats doing no exercise at all for your physical and mental health. And adding bursts of speed on your stroll appears to bring even more benefits. In a study published in a recent issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, researchers found that older adults who mix fast-paced walking surges into their regular walking pace — further elevating their heart rate — reduced their risk of lifestyle-related diseases such as heart disease, stroke, obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The study involved 679 people with a mean age of 65. They were tracked for five months on a program of walking four times a week, mixing in five or more sets of fast-paced walking surges daily, each at least three minutes long. Those who followed the program saw an overall improvement of 14% in their cardiovascular fitness from where they were at the start of the study — and an overall 17% decrease in their risk of lifestyle-related diseases. The more time spent walking at a faster pace increased the health benefits. But after 50 minutes of faster walking a week, those benefits leveled off.

Mayo Clinic experts say that the study adds evidence and detail about the benefits of regular walking, which even for brief stretches brings significant health benefits. When you're ready to add high-intensity intervals to your daily walk, there are two basic ways to get a sense of your exercise intensity: