A simple question — how fast do you walk? — may help researchers determine who has a higher risk of death from heart disease, a new study from the United Kingdom suggests.

The study found that middle-age adults who said they typically walk at a slow pace were about twice as likely to die from heart disease during the study period, compared with those who said they walk at a brisk pace. The findings held even after the researchers accounted for factors that could affect the results, such as people’s exercise habits, their diets, and whether they smoked or drank alcohol.

The study suggests that “a simple, self-reported measure of slow walking pace” would help doctors determine people’s risk of death from heart disease, the researchers wrote in the Aug. 21 issue of the European Heart Journal. [Top 10 Amazing Facts About Your Heart]

For the study, the researchers analyzed information from more than 420,000 middle-age adults in the United Kingdom, who were followed for about six years. None of the participants had heart disease at the time they entered the study. Participants were asked to rate their usual walking pace as “slow,” “steady/average” or “brisk.” The subjects also underwent an exercise test in a laboratory to determine their fitness levels.

During the study, nearly 8,600 of the participants died, and of these, about 1,650 died from heart disease.

People who said they were slow walkers were between 1.8 and 2.4 times more likely to die of heart disease during the six-year study period, compared with those who said they were brisk walkers. The risk was highest for those with a low body mass index (BMI), which could mean the individuals were malnourished or had high levels of muscle tissue loss with age (a condition known as sarcopenia), the researchers said.

The study also found that people’s self-reported walking pace was strongly linked with their levels of physical fitness on the exercise test. In other words, a low fitness level among slow walkers could explain their higher risk of death from heart disease, the researchers said.

“Self-reported walking pace could be used to identify individuals who have low physical fitness” levels and, consequently, higher risk of death from heart disease, study co-author Tom Yates, of the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, said in a statement. These individuals might benefit from interventions to improve their physical fitness, he said. However, more research is needed to examine the extent to which people’s walking pace could be used to improve current predictors for risk of death by heart disease, the researches said.

The study also looked at whether walking pace was linked with people’s risk of death from cancer, but it did not find a consistent link.

Original article on Live Science.

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