Walking speed relates to life expectancy
Mona Kristin Aaslund is a post doc in the Physiotherapy Research Group at the Department of Global Public Health and Primary Care, University of Bergen. She has together with several Norwegian colleagues written a chronicle about research that is demonstrating that a person’s walking speed may indicate something of that person’s health status and life expectancy.
The subject was highlighted in a recent article in the Norwegian newspaper, “Aftenposten”.
The relationship is the subject of much research attention internationally. Research professor Stephanie Studenski of the National Institute of Aging in the US, states that walking speed is an important indicator of the vigour of a person over the age of 65. She recommends that health personnel should use the simple 4 meter test more when evaluating the health status of seniors. Research has shown that every 10 cm further a person goes per second corresponds to a 10 percent higher life expectancy.
Aaslund underlines that the test is a simple, pragmatic way for health practitioners to gain an overall impression of a senior’s health status. While there has been some discussion about the optimal length of the test distance, the consensus seems to be that 4m is a good place to start. For elderly, the test should be a part of a general practitioner’s normal tool box, together with things such as temperature, heart rate, blood pressure etc.
Characteristics evaluated when determining a person’s level of fraility:
- Inadvertent weight loss
- Poor muscle strength
- Low activity level
- Slow walking gait
Walking speed has been shown to relate to both age and gender, being slower in women, and with increasing age. It is more important to compare the test results of a given person over time, than among a population. Slowing or speeds of less than 1m/s may be a kind of warning that a more complete health status check is required. Speeds of less than 1 m/s have been shown to correlate to an increased risk of falling. Less than 0.8 m/s can identify people who are afraid to go outside. Less than 0.6 m/s may indicate that the person needs every-day assistance of some kind.
Can a person with a low 4m rate exercise their way to better health?
Aaslund responds that without knowing all the functional or medical reasons for slow walking, it is not possible to give a definitive answer, but that logically, being more physically active, should improve walking speed and reduce the risk for poor health.