London - Older people who take a short walk just four times a week reduce the risk of an early death by a staggering 40 percent.
Each walk only needs to be a 15-minute stroll in the open air to give them a better chance of extending their longevity by a few years, say Italian researchers.
Allowing for a host of other factors from smoking to diet, the walking pensioners had a 40 percent better survival rate than those who did not.
For 10 years, medical experts monitored more than 200 residents of an old age home. Their average age was 80 and every aspect of their lifestyle, health and habits was noted.
This included their mental state, their diet, their weight, whether or not they smoked or drank coffee or were depressed.
Most – around 80 percent – of the subjects were physically active, said the researchers and other health organisations based in Rome.
During the decade of study, two in three of the volunteers died, they told the journal Maturitas, allowing them to look at the differences between them and the survivors.
They reported: “Overall survival was highest for subjects walking in the open air four times a week for at least 15 minutes, in comparison to subjects walking fewer than four times a week.”
Walking is obviously an easier form of exercise for older people to take up but it also has the effect of holding back heart disease, stroke and other likely causes of death in the elderly.
The fresh air and exercise can increase the efficiency of the immune system in warding off viruses, strengthen bones and reduce obesity.
It can also lead to better physical health which, in turn, can mean a reduced risk of injuries from falls.
There are also healthy side effects. Old folk who walked regularly were also more likely to eat healthily and less likely to be depressed.
Although the figures had been adjusted to take these factors into account, they did suggest that encouraging pensioners to walk more would have a variety of benefits, the researchers said.
Previous research has found that walking speed may be a predictor of longevity.
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, who assessed 36 000 people over 65, found those who walked slower than 0.6m per second (2.2km/h) had an increased risk of dying, while those who walked faster than 1m per second (3.6km/h) survived longer than would be predicted by age or gender.
Meanwhile, researchers from Boston Medical Centre who studied people in their early sixties for a decade found those with a slower walking pace were one-and-a-half times more likely to develop dementia.
Slower walking speed was associated with fewer grey cells (neurons that carry out most of the brain’s processing) and poorer performance in memory, language and decision-making tests. – Daily Mail