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Posted at 12:07 AM ET, 01/ 5/2011

Walking speed predicts longevity, study finds

By Rob Stein

Can the pace at which a person walks predict how long they are going to live? That's what a new study indicates.

Stephanie Studenski of the University of Pittsburgh and colleagues analyzed data collected from nine studies conducted between 1986 and 2000 involving 34,485 adults ages 65 and older whose gait speed was measured while walking at their usual pace.

In a paper published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the researchers calculated that an individual's walking speed was associated with their probability of survival at all ages and for both sexes. The average walking speed was about 3 feet per second. But the chances of surviving another five or 10 years increased the faster a person walked, especially among those ages 75 and older, the researchers found. The chances of surviving 10 years ranged from 19 percent to 87 among men and from 35 percent to 91 percent among women depending on how fast they walked, the researchers reported.

Walking may predict survival because it requires energy and muscle control as well as major organs such as the heart, lungs and major bodily systems such as the circulatory, nervous and skeletal systems, the researchers said. So it could offer a good way to spot people who are at risk of dying prematurely, they said.

But in an editorial accompanying the study, Matteo Cesari of the Universita Campus BioMedico in Rome much more research is needed before doctors routinely start measuring how fast people walk to get an idea of how long they may live.

By Rob Stein  | January 5, 2011; 12:07 AM ET
Categories:  Aging, General Health, Seniors  
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As far as I can tell, this study doesn't account for height or leg length, which are delimiters of maximum distance per second. As a short woman married to a tall man, I take many more steps to keep up with him, which means I'm actually working harder. But this study would not reflect that.

Maybe the height variable is addressed in the actual JAMA paper, but not according to the abstract, which says "age, sex, and gait speed was as accurate as predicted based on age, sex, use of mobility aids, and self-reported function or as age, sex, chronic conditions, smoking history,blood pressure, body mass index, and hospitalization."

If they really used distance rather than actual gait, short people who walk fast but don't achieve distance will inevitably have lower longevity. In any case, the conclusion is over-generalized and simplistic. Before doctors start putting folks on treadmills and measuring the time in which they walk a specified distance researchers will have to tell them how to factor in height.

Posted by: mipost1 | January 10, 2011 10:21 AM | Report abuse

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