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updated: 4/12/2011 1:21 PM

Walking pace linked to longer life

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Q. Is it true that it is more beneficial for older people to walk at a brisk pace than at a regular walking pace?

A. Your question relates to news reports about research that links longer life expectancy with faster walking speed. These large studies of adults -- mostly those age 65 and older -- do link faster speed while walking a short test distance with longer life.

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Other indicators of physical function, such as grip strength and ability to rise from a chair, also show this link. But researchers say faster walking and these other physical functions are a marker that can help to separate more frail elderly from healthier elderly, which can be important in making various healthcare decisions.

Walking speed is affected by muscle strength, heart function, balance and more, all of which relate to various aspects of health. Optimal walking speed varies with individuals, especially as we age and we know that people "age" at different rates.

Walking is a good exercise for all of us, promoting weight control and providing direct benefits to lower risk of heart disease and cancer. Walking at a brisk pace means that in the same amount of time you burn more calories than walking at a slower pace, and thus does more to assist weight control. A pace brisk enough for an individual to feel their heart rate a little elevated may bring additional health benefits, too, though how fast that pace is will vary among individuals.

One study of older adults showed that over 10 years, those who improved their physical fitness with regular exercise were less likely to show increases in blood pressure, blood triglycerides or insulin levels. For now though, researchers note that walking speed is more clearly one indicator of health status, rather than a target to improve health.

Whatever their pace of walking, federal guidelines advise older adults to "avoid an inactive lifestyle:" the less we do; the less we become able to do.
Q. Is it true that barramundi fish is high in omega-3 fat?

A. Barramundi (also known as giant perch or Asian sea bass) is not quite as high in omega-3 fat as salmon, Atlantic mackerel, sardines or farmed rainbow trout, but it is a source of substantial omega-3 fat, with about 500 milligrams (mg) in a cooked 3-ounce serving (the size of a deck of cards). Its sweet, mild flavor makes it a popular choice, even with people who don't like the stronger taste of some of these other high omega-3 fish.

According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, when you get barramundi from U.S. or Australian sources, it is generally farmed in environmentally sound systems, and contaminants like mercury tend not to be a problem. It's available both fresh and frozen and can be served with a simple squirt of lemon juice to accent its flavor. Or try it baked, broiled or sautéed with flavors of the Mediterranean (like tomatoes, basil and garlic), Asia (like ginger and mushrooms) or Latin America (like lime, cilantro and jalapeno peppers).

• Provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research. Learn more about the group and its News American Plate Program at aicr.org.

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