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US study finds link between walking speed and life expectancy

posted 6 Jan 2011, 11:18 by Mpelembe   [ updated 6 Jan 2011, 11:44 ]

Research published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) says that walking speed is associated with survival in older adults. The study, conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, says that life expectancy in people over the age of 65 tends to be longer in those who walk faster.

73-year-old Janice Fields enjoys a good walk and, as a volunteer in a study by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC),she's been walking a great deal lately. She may be getting older but, she says "I think I still have the spring in my step."

92-year-old Edward Gerjouy (pronounced: Ger-joy), another volunteer, feels the same way although he admits his pace has slowed in recent years.

In the study, the UPMC's Dr. Stephanie Studenski and co-authors evaluated data from almost 35 thousand adults aged 65 and older participating in nine of the latest and largest aging studies both in the United States and internationally. The resulting data evaluates individual walking speeds, which were analysed along with a variety of other health factors. Participants were followed for up to 20 years in some cases.

While the link between aging and a slower walking speed can be observed in older people every day, Dr Studenski says the study establishes that walking speed among senior citizens is associated with their life expectancy.

"We found that very simple tests of walking, for example, just how long it takes to walk four meters which is about 13 feet was in itself a strong predictor of survival." she said in an interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) where the study was first published.

The average gait speed of the volunteers, aged 65 or older, was 0.92 metres (3 feet) per second. The data revealed that those who walked faster tended to live longer than the average. Studenski says the study showed that gait speeds of one meter (3.3 feet) per second consistently demonstrated survival rates that surpassed those expected on the basis of sex or age alone.

In essence, she says, walking speed in older people is a reliable indicator of their general health and therefore, their life expectancy.

"The reason that there's a relationship between walking speed and longevity is because your walking speed is a very simple reflection of how well many of your body systems are doing.", she said.

Studenski says doctors could use gait speed in older patients as an indicator of medical problems that may need attention elsewhere, such as the respiratory, skeletal or muscular systems which are all at work during the act of walking.

"In every population no matter how old they were, what sex they were, what kind of health conditions they had that there was a strong relationship between walking speed and survival." she said.

For Janice Fields, the findings have prompted a new approach to life.

"I have to take the initiative and keep myself moving whther I want to or not." she said.