Keeping up with youngsters in the family physically is a good indication that you still have many years ahead of you. It is always a nice feeling when you know that you can run around and play with your grandchildren even after you have crossed 60 years. According to a study, after 65, the walking speed at your natural pace is a reliable predictor of your health and survival. Measuring the gait speed over a short distance such as across a room is an important tool for physicians to set a right treatment and care goals for senior adults.
Walking Speed that Predicts a Longer Life
A study was conducted on 34,485 participants of age 65 and above on their natural gait speed from nine previous studies. The studies followed outcomes for 12 years or more during which time more than half the participants died. They found out a consistent result about how long people lived and whether they had faster or slower gait speed.
Those people who walked naturally at 2.2 miles per hour (27:16 minutes per mile or 1.0 meter per second) or even faster, were likely to live a longer life than when predictions were made by age and sex alone.
Those who walked naturally at 1.8 miles per hour (33: 30 minutes per mile or 0.8 meters per second) were likely to live an average life span for their age and gender.
Those who walked naturally at 1.3 miles per hour (46:09 minutes per mile or 0.6 meters per second) were at greater risk of early mortality.
People who walked slower and slower speeds had a shorter life span than expected.
The study sample size included a large sampling of sex, age, race/ethnicity and other subgroups. The median survival of all participants in the study was similar to that of the US adult population at large. They also noted that there could be some biases on the participants selected and maybe healthy volunteers were selected without the symptoms of advanced dementia.
It was also noticed by the researchers that just because a person walked slowly it didn’t mean that he or she may not live a normal or even an increased lifespan. Increased lifespan would also depend on the individual lifestyle and other factors as well.
What are the determining factors of your walking speed as you age?
Older age people usually walk slowly and there can be many different reasons for people to walk slowly. Since walking is a complex activity, most people don’t take it seriously, but there are several changes that happen to the body that affects the walking. Usually it is arthritis that is blamed to cause damage to the hips or knees affecting the walking. But, you should also have good lungs and heart for the overall body to function properly. Your brain and nervous system also plays a role in controlling the muscles so that they function in coordination. It is crucial in maintaining proper balance and correct posture as you walk. All of these above factors need to function and coordinate with each other for everything to work smoothly.
For walking faster it takes some basic aerobic fitness, balance and strength to speed up. Your natural walking pace when you are not trying to walk faster is affected by your overall health. Walking slowly means you are walking less and getting less physical activity. Less physical activity means your health condition goes downwards. As you walk less your stamina also goes down and will make you lazy and unhealthy. This will lead to poor survival time.
How can gait speed be used clinically?
If you and your doctor are discussing about topics like what treatments and therapies that might benefit you in older age, then knowing how much longer you are likely to live can be a factor. You may be willing to go for an aggressive treatment or even undergo a surgery that may require a long rehabilitation period if you think you have many more years to live.
You may be more careful about your health and may be following a good preventive health care if you know you have many more healthy years ahead of you. If your gait speed indicates that you are at risk, then you and your physician might work on the factors that can reduce the health risks and improve your health condition.
If you or your doctor notice that you are walking slower than few years ago, then it is time to look into greater detail and finding out the condition that was not diagnosed previously. Doctors also use other methods to access the likely lifespan, some of which may be based on judgment instead of some measurements. Walking speed can be measured while walking with a stopwatch and can be done by anyone and don’t need any help from a professional.
Gait Speed Test
The participants who were involved in the research were not aware that their walking speed was something significant and so there was no extra effort from their side to walk in a speed that was more than their normal walking speed. This will be a factor if you try to measure your own walking speed. You can ask your friend or spouse to measure your walking speed several times over a few days to get a clear understanding, eliminating any abnormal high or low measurements.
You can even use a treadmill to measure your speed that you are comfortable with to compare a speed measured walking for 13 feet. To use the 13-feet walking test, divide the number of seconds by 4 to get the meters per second.
The researchers produced a table and graph for men and women that show how the median life expectancy varies over a range of walking speeds. These are shown in meters per second. For a 13 foot walk you would take the number of seconds to complete it and divide it by 4 to get meters per second. If you time your walk by other means, it will translate into these numbers:
0.2 meters per second: 0.4 miles per hours or 300 minutes per mile
0.6 meters per second: 1.3 miles per hour or 100 minutes per mile
0.8 meters per second: 1.8 miles per hour or 33:30 minutes per mile
1.0 meters per second: 2.2 miles per hour or 27:16 minutes per mile
1.1 meters per second: 2.5 miles per hour or 24 minutes per mile
1.4 meters per second: 3.1 miles per hour or 19:21 minutes per mile
1.6 meters per second: 3.6 miles per hour or 16:40 minutes per mile
Will Walking Faster Lengthen your Life?
Research doesn’t prove that walking speed can lengthen your life, but improvement in your physical fitness has a positive impact on the length of your life. If your fitness levels are good as you age, then there is a decreased risk of health related issues. If you prefer walking than any other forms of exercise, then to improve your cardiovascular health it is advisable to have a 30 minutes or more brisk walk on most days a week. You can aim for 150minutes per week. Gradually you can improve your natural walking speed.
Along with walking, you should also improve your muscle strengthening activities two or more days per week. If you are at risk of falling, then you should concentrate on improving your balance.
If any chronic problem prevents you from doing a moderate intensity aerobic workout, then you should be physically active by doing things that your body is able to do without causing any issues. Talk to your doctor about the activities that are most appropriate for you.
Your walking speed can be anything, it is important to take those little steps to improve your health so that there is less health related risks for a longer and healthy life. If you have a naturally fast pace, then don’t be complacent, take benefit of all the preventive measures that will lead to a more healthy life ahead. Retired people should not just rest; instead, they should work on improving their physical fitness.