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January 28, 2009, last updated May 22, 2013

By Susan Callahan, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our Editorial Board, which
includes certified fitness and health professionals.]

Want to live longer? Try walking faster.  That's according to
several new studies that have found an interesting
connection between how fast you walk normally and how
long you will live.

There's already plenty of anecdotal evidence that slow
walking is related to poor and declining health. When my
father-in-law was 72 years old, my husband noticed a funny
thing. This once vigorous man, a veteran of World War II,
who still took great delight in dancing and dressing up for
parties, had changed. He had slowed down. Literally, he had
started to walk slower than normal.  Within a year, my
father-in-law was dead.

Throughout history, and across all animal species, from
humans to chimpanzees to lizards, slowing down has
signaled an approaching end to life.  It’s called “gait speed”
or “bradypedia” by some researchers.

Now, researchers from several universities have sharpened
their pencils on this subject. Is it true that people who walk
slower die sooner than those who walk faster?  How slow is
too slow?  Are there things we can do to increase our gait
speed to improve our chances of living longer, healthy lives?

What is the Evidence That Gait Speed Predicts How Long You
Will Live?























Several studies have found that gait speed affects longevity.
A 2006 study from the University of Pittsburgh studied 439
people over age 65. For 8 years, the researchers measuring
them for various signs of physical fitness and overall health,
and ability to function.

At the end of the 8-year study, what they found was
startling. Gait speed predicted mortality better than any
other measure.    The study found that those who did not
improve their gait speed at all --or who slowed down ---
suffered 56% more deaths than those who improved how
fast they walked.

Another experiment was conducted by  Dr. Eleanor
Simonsick, a Baltimore epidemiologist. She and a team of
researchers examined the walking speeds of 3,075 seniors.
The participants were asked to walk a 400 meter course as
fast as they could. Six years later, they looked at the
mortality of the group. A total of 430 people had died.  
When they matched the walking speed against the death
records, the researchers discovered that walking speed
predicted the risk of death. For every 1 minute longer it took
to complete the 400 meter course, average risk of death
increased by 29%. Average risk fo becoming disabled
increased by 52%.

This would explain why those who live in cities designed to
make us walk --- like New York --- tend to have longer life
expectancies. The average lifespan of New York city
residents is 78.6 years, a full 9 months longer than
Americans in general.

[There are some exceptions. In Los Angeles, life expectancy
is 80.3 years, according to a 2010 report from the County of
Los Angeles, Office of Health and Epidemiology. This
longevity, which surpasses New York, is attributed b most
epidemiologists to the area's  focus on fitness and healthy
living.]

Clearly, slowing down is a predictor of early death.
Other studies have confirmed how powerful your gait speed
is at predicting overall health and mortality.

Why Is Walking Speed Such a Great Indicator of Health?

Walking requires a coordination of many body systems.
Walking requires that your body hold itself upright, so it
requires balance.  It requires muscle strength to propel you
along. It requires a sufficiently strong cardiovascular system
so that enough blood is provided to your limbs and core. It
requires that all these systems remain coordinated to
prevent you from falling.

Because walking makes demands across almost all systems
of your body, when you are sick or in decline, your ability to
walk is one of the first things affected.  Researchers like to
think of walking as a measure of the total "disease burden"
you are carrying. Many times, even before you are diagnosed
accurately with a disease or condition, researchers notice
that the evidence of the disease shows up in your walking
speed. You walk slower. You slow down.

Conversely, when you are perfectly healthy, you have a zero
"disease burden" and you tend to walk at a faster clip.

How Slow Is Too Slow for a Healthy Gait Speed?

Are you walking too slowly? Are you slowing down? Studies
have found clear fall-offs in health at various gait speeds.
Basically, if you are walking at a pace of around 3 miles an
hour, you're doing great. If you're walking at a pace of less
than about half a mile an hour, you probably have serious,
perhaps undiagnosed health issues.


Here is a chart summarizing the exact ranges of walking
speeds that correlate with normal health, superior health,
abnormal health and seriously abnormal health.





















What Can You Do To Increase How Fast You Walk?

You might think that doing wind sprints or running
marathons would help your gait speed.  The answer, it may
surprise you, is that neither of these works very effectively.
What does work?  Resistance training. A new study
published January 25, 2009 by the Vancouver Coastal Health
and Research Institute and the University of British Columbia
found that older women who lifted weights for 1 to 2 hours
each week for a year improved their gait speed significantly.

You have to hit the weights. Either lift your body weight or
weights in the gym.  Do not trying lifting too much. Simply
engage your muscles in resistance training for 2 hours a
week.

There are plenty of resistance-training exercises you can do
at home such as push-up, squats and crunches that as just
as effective as going to the gym if you stay dedicated.
Daniela Melton, our Senior
Certified fitness professional, also
recommends that you do core exercises regularly. "Core",
Daniela explains,  includes everything from below the neck to
your hip area, front and back. "When a person has a strong
core, they tend to move better in all directions and have less
pain. A person can train their core strength by including
planks, for example in their routine", Daniela says.

The trick is to set a time every other day to devote yourself
to improving your muscle strength. Muscle strength, we have
found, is necessary to maintain your overall health.

As Daniela explains, "older people often tend to develop kind
of a 'senior shuffle' which often stems from a fear of falling.  
The body feels the closer the foot stays to the ground, the
less they are apt to fall down. Balance and agility training are
an important a way to improve walking speed, no matter
what the persons age.

Incorporate core training and a program of resistance
training in your week.  Over time, and I’ve noticed this in my
own life, you will start to walk at a faster clip.  You could end
up extending your life.

[
Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our Editorial
Board, which includes
Registered Nurses and other Certified
Fitness and health professionals.
]
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