The researchers suggest that a person’s normal walking pace, along with their age and gender, can predict their life expectancy as well as the complex battery of other health indicators. The thought is that instead of assessing a patient’s blood pressure, BMI, chronic conditions smoking history etc., a doctor could simply time the patient walking a few meters and predict just as accurately the persons likelihood of living 5 or 10 more years – as well as a median life expectancy.
Stephanie Studenski, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s Division of Geriatric Medicine and co-author of the study, says that our walking speed is “a powerful indicator of vitality”. She said that most people have a “stable preferred walking speed” and that “your body sort of self-selects your walking speed that best accommodates all of the systems that are needed to walk”. You see walking is not just moving the legs, it is a complex series of events which integrates the nervous system, the muscular system, the skeletal system, the circulatory system and the respiratory system. This is why, how easily you walk, can be a good indicator of overall body function.
Some of the results were fascinating. Here is what they found:
- People with average life expectancy walked about 0.8 meters per second.
- For every 0.1 meters per second faster they walked, their chances of dying in the next decade dropped by 12%.
- For example, a 70 year old man could expect to live anywhere from 7-23 years and a 70 year old women is likely to live anywhere from 10-30 years. The study showed that the faster they walked the more likely they were to live to the longer end of the spectrum.
What does this mean?
To simplify all of this info, it you are functioning well enough in order to be able to walk at a reasonable pace you are likely to live longer than if you could not walk at a good pace. The authors did say that it doesn’t mean that you should just go out and walk quicker. There has been some research by Studenski and her colleagues that found increasing speed over the course of a year did have an increased rate of survival, but they did say that here has been no clinical trials using walking as an intervention for longer living. There have, however, been studies that show walking helps reduce blood pressure, keep weight down, improve your mood, improve you memory etc. I have written previous posts on this.
The way I see it, if you can walk comfortably at a good pace, GREAT, keep it up. It may help you live longer. If you have noted that you are starting to slow down or you can’t walk as easily as you could in the past, it may be time to look at it more closely and find out why you are slowing down. Is it something that could be easily fixed?
This research is based on the older generation, but I think it still applies to people of all ages. If you are struggling to walk comfortably at any age, you need to get it addressed. Fixing problems early on can make a big difference in the years to come.
Seth Landefeld, director of the University of California, Mt Zion Center on Aging summed this up nicely.
"There is a lot of evidence that people who keep up physical activity as well as social activity do much better in all sorts of ways," He said "They live longer. They have better health. Their mental health stays sharper. I would say this article reinforces the use-it-or-lose-it message. If you keep walking and move around, that will likely have benefits in terms of survival and overall health".