How fast do you usually walk? Walking, if accessible, is one of the easiest ways to get exercise and is great for overall health. The public health recommendations for walking focus, particularly on increasing the time spent walking and the number of steps taken. However, recent studies have observed a brisk habitual walking pace associated with a reduced risk of a range of heart problems and cancer outcomes. While the self-reported slowl walking pace has been identified as one of the strongest predictors of all-cause mortality, even when adjusting for the effects of established risk factors such as body mass index (BMI) and other lifestyle behaviors, including smoking.
Despite the strong associations of self-reported walking pace with health and survival, it is unclear whether these associations arise from common biological processes, including genetic predisposition, or if there are other factors that influence walking pace. To date, genome-wide significant markers of objectively measured walking speeds average sample size is 31,479. To examine the genetic component of self-reported walking pace in a larger sample size, researchers performed a genome-wide association study (GWAS) of self-reported walking pace in 450,967 participants of European ancestry from the UK Biobank.
In this study, they gathered walking data by using the ACE touchscreen question “How would you describe your usual walking pace?” with response options of “slow”, “steady/average”, “brisk”, “None of the above” or “Prefer not to answer”. If the participant activated the “Help” button, they were shown the message: “Slow pace is defined as less than 3 miles per hour. Steady average pace is defined as between 3-4 miles per hour. Fast pace is defined as more than 4 miles per hour.” In total, 144 significant independent SNPs across 70 genomic loci, including 11 that were novel, indexed by 75 lead SNPs were identified in the GWAS. To avoid the influence of BMI on walking speed, they also performed a sensitivity analysis. Only 15 loci retained a genome-wide significance among 70 associated loci when adjusted for BMI. The strongest association signal was observed for rs13107325 near the SLC39A8 gene, which has been reported to be associated with metabolic traits. The remaining loci that retained genome-wide significance after adjustment for BMI include rs143384 near the GDF5 gene, rs10750025 near the DRD2 gene, and rs273512 near the MAST3 gene. On the contrary, 45 loci in total maintained a suggestive significance level, which include rs4839898 near the KLHL32 gene, rs4134943 near the E2F3 gene, rs67625472 near the KDM4B gene, rs2301597 near the NMT1 gene, rs830627 near the FOXP1 gene, rs8011870 near the NRXN3 gene, and rs16921721 near the NRXN3 gene.
Interestingly, researchers found that a self-reported walking pace has a strong genetic overlap with increased years of education and greater intelligence. This could be due to the fact that higher educational attainment is associated with healthy lifestyle choices and a greater ability to self-manage health. A faster walking pace may also reflect psychological factors relating to increased motivation and internal “drive,” which are potentially linked to educational attainment and cognition. Read more about the study here: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33128006/
Are you interested in learning more about your genetic tendency for self-reported walking pace? You can login to your Genomelink YOUR TRAITS to see this new genetic trait.