Can you walk and read at the same time? Great, up you get then – we’ll do this one on the move, and briskly.

A new study has found that having a “brisk gait” can dramatically slow down ageing, to the extent that, by the time a fast walker reaches midlife, their body will be the equivalent of 16 years younger than that of a “plodder”.

For the first time, researchers used data from the UK Bioband, a database containing the health information of half a million people, to reach their conclusion. According to the study’s lead author, Dr Paddy Dempsey, from the University of Leicester, it “suggests measures such as a habitually slower walking speed are a simple way of identifying people at greater risk of chronic disease or unhealthy ageing”.

This is good news for anybody with an interest in living longer and an aversion to more strenuous exercise or team sports. Brisk walking can, after all, be easily folded into our daily routine, doesn’t involve any equipment, is easier on the joints than running and can be accompanied by a call, or a podcast, or a friend.

You don’t need to look far to find evidence of the health benefits of walking. In 2019, the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that a brisk walk once a week is enough to significantly reduce the chances of an early death.

In the same year, the American Society for Clinical Oncology published a study showing how people diagnosed with breast cancer who walk 180 minutes a week were roughly half as likely to die from the disease, compared to those who didn’t, over an eight-year period.

Also Stateside, this year a study found brisk walking improves brain health and thinking in ageing people with memory impairments. And the Stroke Association recommends a daily 30-minute stroll to help reduce the risk of suffering a stroke by up to 27 per cent. But making the most of it requires stepping up the pace.

“These days we are more sedentary but living longer, so we are learning properly about walking,” says Joanna Hall, founder of fitness programme WalkActive. “You can save yourself a gym membership if you do it right, and get the fresh air and social benefits at the same time. Quality is more important than quantity, though, so you don’t want an amble or a stomp, but you do want to be quick.”

To get the most from a walk, Hall recommends forgetting the arms pumping, hip-wiggling style of power walking, made popular in the 1990s, and going back to basics.

“Doing it like that causes masses of tension in the body, and puts greater stress on the lower back, with an unnaturally short stride. Instead it’s best to push off with the back foot, keep your head directly above your spine, and focus on briskness.”

How do you know if you’re being brisk? “One, you should be slightly out of breath. If you’re ambling along, occasionally stopping to pick up your dog’s poo, you’re not working up any obvious effort – and that’s not enough.

“Two, if you’re walking with someone, or even on the phone, you shouldn’t be able to have a normal conversation. It should be breathy, with neither person able to easily interrupt. And thirdly, look at your cadence. At a minimum, aim for 120 strides per minute, which roughly matches the rhythm of your heart.”

The Daily Telegraph

Read more