More Good News About Walking
The news about walking and the health benefits incurred appear to keep adding up. In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, it was found that the walking speed of those who are 65 years of age and older can be used as a predictor of life expectancy. Those that had a walking speed that was typically faster also had greater life expectancy than those that had slower walking speeds.
The study examined 34,485 subjects of different race, ethnicity and gender. Gait speed, or the speed that one walks, ranged from 0.4 meters per second to 1.4 meters per second for the participants in the study. A gait speed of 0.8 meters per second was found to correlate with median life expectancy for the person and faster gait speeds continued to correlate with increasing levels of life expectancy. This correlation continued to hold regardless of the race, ethnicity or gender of the person. Furthermore, those who had gait speeds that were 1.2 meters or greater per second were predictive of "exceptional" life expectancy among the study's participants (Moon, 2011).
Although the study's results were correlational, there was some inference made about the measurement of walking speed becoming a "new vital sign" in evaluating the health of older adult patients. Just as blood pressure, respiration, temperature, and pulse rate can provide a considerable level of information about a person's health, the authors feel that gait speed can also be highly informative, being used as both a predictive and preventative tool (Moon, 2011).
Predictive in that gait speed appears to hold a robust correlation to a person's life expectancy, ceteris paribus, or in other words, if no changes are made. Preventative in that understanding the predictive significance of gait speed, health care professionals can use this to potentially enhance walking regimes and gait speed among the elderly, and with this, potentially leading the older adult down the path of enhanced longevity.
This is exciting news in that using gait speed, elder care professionals may be able to evaluate whether the elder clientele has a probability for living 5 or 10 more years or whether they may have a heightened probability for earlier mortality. However, what is exciting is that a) it is an evaluative tool that is quite simple to measure and use, and b) when individuals are found with lower than median gait speed and therefore may incur higher risks for early mortality, simple intervention in the form of more walking and faster paced walking may be prescribed to help reverse this trend and put the older adult on path toward greater longevity.
What makes this research exciting is that a very simple test of measuring walking speed can be completed by many health care providers at minimum cost and it can provide valuable information on the potential health and anticipated life expectancy of an individual. For sure it is no perfect crystal ball for predicting the future of the individual. But the research has provided some impressive results that can lead us toward viewing a person's walking speed as an important vital indicator of their health. Moreover, quite contrary with other more sophisticated medical technology that takes individuals with considerable expertise to evaluate the results as well as often places a very costly burden on the individual, even often when they do have insurance, this test only depends on having a measurable distance, such as a 4-meter walkway and a stopwatch. This is a pretty economical measurement when compared to most of the other forms of measurements and tests that are conducted on many older adults.
With all the excitement that this study brings, it must not be viewed as definitive by any means. Greater controls and further research are needed to buttress these findings. Nevertheless, given the large sample size and the impressive results that were found, one cannot help but take notice of the importance that walking speed may hold diagnostically in the future for older adult evaluations. Therefore, it may be sound to start evaluating gait speed as an important vital sign for a sound therapeutic evaluation. Since it is not invasive, has minimal cost and time expenditures, and may potentially lead to predictive information that other tests are unable to evaluate, it sure could not hurt for more specialists in older adult care to make this a part of their clinical evaluation repertoire.
Moon, M.A. (2011). Seniors' walking speed may predict life expectancy. Caring for the Ages, 12(4); 13.