How Increasing Your Walking Speed Can Improve Your Health

When we visit the doctor, we’re accustomed to having our vital signs like blood pressure, body temperature, and heart rate checked. But we may be less familiar with another critical indicator of our health: walking speed.

Research has found that because of its ability to predict a large constellation of other health factors like cognitive function and physical health, walking speed is a more accurate predictor of life expectancy than just age or gender.

If you’re looking for a simple, effective way to improve your health—both right now and in the long term—upping your walking speed is the way to go. Here are a few benefits of a brisk walking speed, along with some suggestions for how best to pick up the pace.

What Is Walking “Brisk?”

Many experts consider a “brisk pace” to be at least 100 steps per minute, or around 3-3.5mph. However, the exact speed of a “brisk pace” will vary from person to person, since it’s linked to current fitness levels and health. Regardless of where you are on your health and fitness journey, you’ll know you’ve reached a challenging speed when it feels difficult, but not impossible, to continue a conversation. If you want to up the ante even further, you’ll need to increase your pace until you can only string a few words together. No matter what, a brisk pace should increase your heart rate and make you break a sweat.

Benefits of a Brisk Walking Speed


Improved Fitness

Walking quickly puts positive work stress on our bodies, meaning it pushes our bodies in a supportive way, helping us to adapt and get stronger. When done correctly, brisk walking can make you stronger, more limber, and more coordinated, increasing your cardiovascular strength and improving other health metrics. For example, people who walk faster have been shown to have lower body mass index, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels and better gum health.

Improved Cognitive Function and Memory

In addition to improving health and fitness, increasing your walking speed can improve your brain functioning. Those who walk slower have been shown to have a thinner brain cortex, the area of the brain responsible for learning, problem-solving, and other conscious thinking. They perform worse on tests of memory, processing speed, reasoning, and other cognitive functions. Slower walkers also tend to have more white matter, which can be a sign of vascular disease and a risk factor for stroke and dementia.

Lowered Risk of Hospitalization

Walking speed is among the strongest predictors for future falls and hospitalizations compared to other vital signs. In patients with heart conditions, one study found that those with faster walking speeds not only had a lower risk of hospitalization but if they were hospitalized, their stays were shorter than those who walked at a slower pace. Higher walking speeds indicate more mobility and better coordination and balance, which means less likelihood for falls, disability, and loss of autonomy, especially in older adults.

Preserving Your Youth

Walking briskly quite literally keeps you young. While most studies about walking speed have focused primarily on its impact on older populations, one study found that walking speed was a similarly critical indicator of brain and body health in younger people, too. The study found that participants with a slower walking pace were aging faster than their quick-walking counterparts, demonstrating weaker hand grip strength, more difficulty getting up from a chair, more signs of vascular disease, and poorer performance on cognitive tests. Researchers even determined that slower walkers’ faces were aging more rapidly than quick walkers.

Reduced Mortality Risks, Including Those from Chronic Diseases

Increasing your walking speed won’t only keep you younger for longer—it can also help keep you alive. Researchers have found a link between brisk walking and a reduced risk of death from all causes. Brisk walking is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic, life-threatening conditions, such as cancer and diabetes. Another study comparing brisk and slow walkers’ risk of premature death found that fast walkers had a 30% lower risk of premature death.

How to Pick up the Pace

To get the most out of your brisk walk, you’ll want to make sure you’re considering the following factors:

Focus on Form

Paying attention to your posture and form while walking will allow your body to recruit the proper muscles to build optimal, functional strength and mobility. Keep your focus up, head level, spine long, shoulders down, and core engaged. Roll from your heel to your toes with each step, distributing your weight evenly across your foot and working to keep your stride lengths as even as possible.

Include Your Arms

When walking, your arms should work opposite your feet. When you pick up the pace, try gently bending the elbow to pump the arms forward and back as you walk, swinging from your shoulder. Keep your swing low—right around your hips and waist—and try not to let your arms cross your midline.

Increase the Challenge

Once you’re ready for a challenge, try including some hills on your walking route or increasing the incline on the treadmill. You can also introduce intervals, increasing your pace or incline intermittently, followed by periods of a slightly slower pace. Include light hand weights or a weighted exercise belt for an additional challenge.

Warm Up and Cool Down

Ease into your walking workout with a warm-up. This could mean starting your walk at a slower pace and then building up to briskness. To cool down, you can slow your pace again, allowing your heart rate to return to normal while you’re still in motion. Concluding with a few gentle, dynamic stretches can help your muscles recover and improve range of motion.

Our movement tells a far more complex and multifaceted story than simply our capacity to be physically active. How we walk—how far, how long, how frequently, and, importantly, how quickly— provides insight into what is happening inside our bodies and minds, and predicts how healthy we may be in the future.


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