Simple Steps That Can Add Up to 30 Years to Your Life

I’ll never forget the night of April 10, 1995…

My Rusted Root bandmates and I had just finished a great set at the old Boston Garden arena.

We were coming off the adrenaline high of opening for the iconic Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin—a dream come true for us all.

rusted root with jimmy page and robert plant of led zeppelin
Rusted Root with Robert Plant (second from left) and Jimmy Page (fourth from left).
IMAGE SOURCE: Jim Donovan

A few minutes later, there was a knock on our dressing room door.

I answered it. And standing smack-dab in front of me were two more of my music heroes: Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry.

steven tyler and joe perry of aerosmith
Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith.
IMAGE SOURCE: RadioKMZN.com

They stopped by to congratulate us on our set before seeing their old pals perform.

Steven shook my hand as I stared at him in awe. He said, “Man, you guys have a real special groove… it’s like it came straight down from heaven.”

One of the best showmen in classic rock just complimented how well we play rhythm… I was beside myself! That simple, 30-second interaction will stick with me for the rest of my life…

There’s no denying that rhythm has the power to move, uplift, and change lives. In my case, rhythm not only helped me launch a career as a professional drummer, but it also helped me recover from five life-saving GI surgeries.

And today, you’ll learn how rhythm can help you—by adding years to your life.

Walking accelerated my healing

Before I left the hospital to recover from my surgeries at home, my nurse emphasized how crucial regular walking would be to my recovery. And honestly, it was the best piece of advice I received regarding my rehabilitation.

Although it wasn’t easy… walking worked.

Little by little, I increased the frequency, duration, and intensity of my walks. Each day, I committed to taking a few more steps a bit faster than the day before.

Eventually, I regained my strength and adopted a daily walking routine, which I continue today.

And now I’m able to walk, jog, or run down the road to say hi to my furry friends every evening.

cows
IMAGE SOURCE: Jim Donovan

Not only did walking help speed up my recovery, but according to the latest research, it’s also increased my life expectancy! But the trick is, you have to walk in a certain way to gain the longevity benefits…

“Walk this way” to live longer

A 2011 study analysis published in The Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed nine cohort studies including nearly 34,500 adults 65 years of age or older. Researchers followed up with them anywhere between six and 20 years.

They found that certain gait speeds—how fast you walk—were associated with a longer lifespan.  

Older adults with an average gait speed of 1.3 mph had a higher likelihood for poor health markers and lower life expectancy. Those with an average gait speed of 1.7 mph had an average life expectancy (about 70 years old for males and 72 for females). But those who walked just a bit faster at 2.2 mph had a much longer life expectancy. And those with 2.6 mph had an “exceptional” lifespan.

The researchers noted that survival differences were even more pronounced among the study participants 75 years of age and older. If their gait speeds were 2.2 mph or above, their life expectancy was consistently longer than average. Seventy-year-old men gained anywhere from 7 to 23 years and while 70-year-old women enjoyed an extra 10 to 30 years!

According to the researchers, a person’s gait has such an effect on lifespan because: “Walking requires energy, movement control, and support and places demands on multiple organ systems, including the heart, lungs, circulatory, nervous, and musculoskeletal systems. Slowing gait may reflect both damaged systems and a high-energy cost of walking.

“…Decreasing mobility may induce a vicious cycle of reduced physical activity and deconditioning that has a direct effect on health and survival.”

Other studies have shown that walking increases longevity by:

  • Burning fat
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Reducing risk of several types of cancer
  • Slowing memory decline

But if your gait speed is on the slower side, don’t fret. You can improve it—easily and naturally.

Let the rhythm guide you

Rhythm has been shown to easily increase walking speed—and as a result, your longevity.

In fact, many hospital and rehabilitation centers are now using rhythm-based practices to help patients—especially stroke victims—build (or rebuild) their ability to walk.

Here’s a video of a real session where George, a stroke patient, uses rhythmic music to boost his gait speed.

At the beginning of the session, George walked about 40 feet, very slowly with a cane. While he did this, the therapists played slow music of 65 beats per minute (bpm).

But as the music gradually sped up, so did George’s walking speed.

By the end of the session he was able to walk 250 feet to fast music (120 bpm)—without his cane and relatively unassisted!

This technique is called Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation (RAS). It uses rhythm to stimulate the movement centers in the brain. In other words, you can train your brain to walk to the beat.

Start your own rhythmic walking routine

Whether you’re in recovery, growing older, or just want to improve your longevity, everyone can benefit from walking more (even if you already have good gait speed).

You can easily boost the speed of your daily stroll by using the RAS technique I just described.

But first, it’s helpful to know your average walking speed. Here are a few helpful tools:

  • Download a walking app like Map My Walk or Walkmeter. These will track your walking route, your duration, and your walking speed. Plus, there are a lot of free versions available.

    Personally, I’ve found that tracking my progress is really helpful in keeping me consistent and accountable.

  • Or, purchase a pedometer to track how far you’ve walked and use a stopwatch to keep track of how long you walked. Divide the distance by time to get your overall walking speed. You can also use this calculator.

Once you’ve determined your average gait speed, you can create a personalized playlist that can help you speed things up and, in turn, boost your longevity.

  • Create a walking playlist that includes music with a steady beat you can walk to. I suggest using songs that are a certain bpm.

    For instance, if your average walking tempo is around 2 mph, I recommend songs that are in the 100 bpm range. If it’s closer to 3 mph, search for songs in the 120 bpm range.

    You can find songs with a certain bpm on Spotify or YouTube to choose from. Just type in the bpm and your preferred genres of music. For example, “120 bpm classic rock.”

  • At the end of your playlist, tack on a few songs that are 5 bpm faster than your average walking speed.


Here’s a 108 bpm song to help you get started. It’s inspired by one of my favorite masters of rhythm. I hope you take the message to heart…

Happy Walking!


SOURCES:

Auditory Rhythmic Stimulation for Gait Training (n.d.). Physiopedia. Retrieved from: physio-pedia.com/Auditory_Rhythmic_Stimulation_for_Gait_Training

List of countries by life expectancy. (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved from: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_life_expectancy#:~:text=Worldwide%2C%20the%20average%20life%20expectancy,according%20to%20The%20World%20Factbook.

Studenski, S., Perera, S., and Patel, K. (2011). Gait Speed and Survival in Older Adults. JAMA Network. 305(1): pp. 50 – 58.Retrieved from:jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/644554

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About the author

Jim Donovan M.Ed., is a professional musician and educator. He's an Assistant Professor at Saint Francis University where he teaches music and how the power of sound can help you experience a healthier life.