Just 10 minutes of brisk walking is enough to de-age your body. But what does that actually mean?
We’re living through the age of the Biohack Bro – when Silicon Valley scions would rather put their billions towards extending their own lives than improving the wider community. In a bid to reverse biological age, people take on extreme fasts, brutal workouts and insanely boring diets. But there’s one habit that has been proven to reduce biological age: walking. Yep, that humble activity we’ve been doing since we were first able to stand and did for hours over lockdown may actually be de-ageing us.HOW IS BIOLOGICAL AGE DIFFERENT TO CHRONOLOGICAL AGE?
Before we continue, it’s worth just explaining what biological age is – and why it’s become this all-important marker of health. Chronological age is the number of years you’ve been alive (eg I was born in 1989, so I’m 33). Biological age, on the other hand, refers to how old your cells and tissues are based on various physiological markers.
Experts believe that biological age may be a more accurate marker for predicting the onset of disease and death. If you live a healthy, active lifestyle, you could have a much lower biological age than someone far younger than you chronologically. If you and your mate were born the same year but they smoke (and you don’t), the chances are that they’re biologically much older than you.
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A handful of things can impact your biological age – either speeding it up so you’re arguably less healthy than you ‘should’ be at your chronological age, or protecting your body from the ravages of time (to some degree).
Think about it this way: have you ever met someone who seemed a certain age but who turned out to be wildly older? We all know someone’s mum who seemed decades younger, or have an elderly neighbour who never seems to tire of taking the bus with their groceries. They may not have been gym-goers or marathon runners, but they were chronically active.
HOW DOES WALKING REDUCE BIOLOGICAL AGE?
Perhaps, with that all in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that walking can de-age our cells and tissues. After all, walking is exercise. But the really interesting thing is how quickly and dramatically walking can reduce our biological age.
A study from earlier this year of more than 400,000 UK adults found that as little as 10 minutes’ brisk walking a day was associated with having longer telomeres (part of your chromosomes associated with ageing). That correlated to having a biological age that appeared a whopping 16 years younger by the time people reached middle age.
That means the power walk you do to the station every morning because you never leave early enough to catch the train comfortably is doing a huge amount of good. You don’t have to go on runs or walk very far to reap the huge, full-body benefits – a functionally fast walk from A to B is enough.
Speed matters for boosting health
This isn’t the first study to suggest the power of a 10-minute walk, so long as it is genuinely brisk.
A 2017 study by the University of Leicester found that slow walkers were around twice as likely to die of a cardiovascular issue than people who considered themselves to be ‘brisk’ walkers. The study tracked 420,727 healthy adults over a six-year period and – after factoring in things like smoking and hours spent watching TV – researchers found that the link between walking pace and heart health was still strong.
Professor Tom Yates, lead author of the study and reader in physical activity, sedentary behaviour and health at the University of Leicester, said that this “suggests habitual walking pace is an independent predictor of heart-related death”.
Back in 2018, Public Health England (PHE) and the Royal College of General Practitioners encouraged the nation to incorporate at least 10 minutes of brisk walking into their day, calling it the ‘Active 10’ in order to cut the risk of type 2 diabetes and other conditions related to inactivity.
“I’d advise anyone of any age and activity level to fit in at least one 10-minute brisk walk a day as a simple way to get more active, especially those who may be taking medication for a long-term health condition – you will receive even more benefits from walking briskly for 10 minutes or more a day,” Professor Sir Muir Gray, clinical advisor for the Active 10 app and PHE’s One You campaign said at the time.