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How fast you walk linked to how long you will live: gait speed may reflect overall health and appears to be as reliable a predictor of longevity as other factors, such as age and gender.

How fast--or how slowly--you normally walk may be a useful indicator of your survival, according to a study published in the January 5, 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Better yet, that information may help doctors and other health care providers identify and address underlying problems that are reflected in walking speed.

"We knew that there was some sort of relationship between walking, health, and aging because we see it in our own lives," says Stephanie Studenski, MD, MPH, lead author and professor, division of geriatric medicine, and director, Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center, University of Pittsburgh. (Dr. Studenski trained at Duke University in internal medicine, rheumatology and geriatrics and then served on the faculty.) "All of us have commented on an older friend or relative who is especially spry and lively, and we've also worried about others who seem to be slowing down. Now we have numbers that show an association between walking speed and survival.

THE STUDY. Dr. Studenski and colleagues tested the walking speed of more than 34,000 subjects 65 years and older, then tracked survival rates for between six and 21 years. They found that the predicted remaining years to live for both men and women at each age interval increased as walking speed increased. Those who normally walked slower than 1.36 miles an hour had a higher risk of dying during the next five to 10 years. Those who averaged 2.25 mph or faster lived longer than would have been expected based solely on age or gender.

CONNECTING THE DOTS. Increased walking speed is not the goal, per se, but rather an indication of body functions needed to walk, such as strength, balance, power, lung capacity, and even mental demands.


"Chronological age is a very poor representation of what's going on in terms of health among older people," says Dr. Studenski. "Many health screening tests are cut off at a certain age because average life expectancy becomes too short to benefit from the results of the tests. Now we know there are a significant number


Miriam C. Morey, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Geriatrics, Duke; VA Medical Center, Durham, NC

Walking Speed Is a Good Predictor of Life Expectancy

"Normal walking speed is a known indicator of health. We know that slow "normal" walking speed is associated with difficulty in performing physical tasks and is indicative of risk for institutionalization and low survivability. This article is a huge contribution to our field. We learned that walking speed, which is easily measured, combined with age and sex is as good a predictor of life expectancy as other more complicated models typically used to estimate life expectancy among older adults. The tables published offer increased precision in the estimation of life expectancy between ages 65 and 90 for normal walking speeds ranging from 0.2 to 1.6 meters per second. Future efforts will determine whether interventions that change gait speed, such as exercise or other therapies, have similar effect on survival." of people who have many remaining years of life and ought to be treated as if they are chronologically younger."

NEW WAY TO MONITOR HEALTH. Dr. Studenski sees walking speed as a simple way to monitor a person's health. As with blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight numbers, walking speed is also a number that may give you a perspective on what you can do to be healthier. Dr. Studenski acknowledges, however, that walking speed will never explain everything about longevity, and strongly emphasizes three other points related to the new research:

1. "Clearly, there are people who walk slowly and live for a long time."

2. "There is no clinical evidence that improving walking speed will increase life expectancy."

3. "We are not saying that people should go out and walk more quickly. Your body has a self-selected, preferred walking speed that it chooses based on how your systems are functioning and personal safety."


                  Warm up     Fast Walk     Cool Down   Total Time

Week 1    Pace  Walk slowly  Walk briskly  Walk slowly  15 minutes
          Time  5 minutes    5 minutes     5 minutes

Week 2    Pace  Walk slowly  Walk briskly  Walk slowly  18 minutes
          Time  5 minutes    8 minutes     5 minutes

Week 3    Pace  Walk slowly  Walk briskly  Walk slowly  21 minutes
          Time  5 minutes    11 minutes    5 minutes

Week 4    Pace  Walk slowly  Walk briskly  Walk slowly  24 minutes
          Time  5 minutes    14 minutes    5 minutes

Week 5    Pace  Walk slowly  Walk briskly  Walk slowly  27 minutes
          Time  5 minutes    17 minutes    5 minutes

Week 6    Pace  Walk slowly  Walk briskly  Walk slowly  30 minutes
          Time  5 minutes    20 minutes    5 minutes

Week 7    Pace  Walk slowly  Walk briskly  Walk slowly  33 minutes
          Time  5 minutes    23 minutes    5 minutes

Week 8    Pace  Walk slowly  Walk briskly  Walk slowly  36 minutes
          Time  5 minutes    26 minutes    5 minutes

Week 9 &  Pace  Walk slowly  Walk briskly  Walk slowly  40 minutes
Beyond    Time  5 minutes    30 minutes    5 minutes

PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS. Gait speed can be measured in a doctor's office with nothing more than a stopwatch and a four-meter (13 feet) course. The test may provide your doctor with a relatively pain-free, non-invasive tool to assess your overall health.

"If you walk slowly," says Dr. Studenski, "try to identify things you can improve to make your body comfortable when you walk more quickly."
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Publication:Duke Medicine Health News
Date:Mar 1, 2011
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