REFLECTIONS

Fast walking makes you young and intelligent

According to the findings of a study

In Summary

• Slow walkers have ‘older’ brains and bodies than their fast-walking agemates

Human brain
Human brain
Image: COURTESY

Last weekend in Vienna, Austria, on a misty Saturday morning, long-distance runner extraordinaire Eliud Kipchoge ran a marathon in 1:59.40, making him the first person in history to complete 42.2km in under two hours.

It was a great moment for Eliud Kipchoge, a moment Kenya showed to the world that great things do come from Kenya. As one member of the public put it in a TV street interview immediately after Kipchoge’s triumph, “Ni wanasiasa tu ndio wanatuharibia jina.

The next day in Chicago, Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei shattered a 16-year-old women’s world marathon record when she won the Chicago Marathon.

 

By the time you read this though, everyone will have written quite a bit about these athletic achievements so I’ll talk about something else; somewhat related, also about speed, something we all do from time to time: walking.

An international team of scientists have found in a research study that 40-year-old slow walkers have ‘older’ brains and bodies than their fast-walking agemates.

The study involved 1,000 people in New Zealand born in the 70s and followed to the age of 45. The study participants had physical tests, brain function tests and brain scans, and during their childhood, they had had cognitive tests every couple of years. What the researchers found was that in general, the slow walkers tended to show signs of ‘accelerated ageing’, with their appearance and health in worse shape than those who walked faster — a fast walk being defined as a walk that leaves you breathing faster and increases your heart rate.

What surprised the scientists was that brain scans showed the slower walkers were more likely to have older looking brains, too. The researchers were able to predict the walking speed of the 45-year-old participants of the study just by looking at the results of intelligence, language and motor skills tests from when they were three. Those who grew up to be the slowest walkers had on average a lower IQ than those who grew up to be the fastest walkers.

After coming across this study, I feel vindicated.

I’m a fast walker, the kind of person who gets frustrated by people who take leisurely strolls on Nairobi city streets in groups, sometimes four abreast. ‘What’s the hurry?’ their eyes say after I barrel through and go past. Well, no hurry, I just walk fast and apparently that’s what makes me look far younger than I actually am.

As for the higher IQ, personally, I don’t put much stock in intelligence measurements. My feeling is some people don’t like to think. It’s like thought gives them a stomachache and so they avoid it. It’s not that they’re incapable of thinking, they just don’t like doing it, much like some people don’t like to jog, doesn’t mean that if a dog is after them, they’re incapable of running.

 

And as for this research, just goes to show that there’s no need for youth potions, hair dye or plastic surgery to look younger. Nor do you have to sign up for mental exercise classes to improve intelligence. Just walk faster.

At the very least, you’ll get some cardio in without having to join a gym.