Seniors, Gait Speed Associated With Life Expectancy

Jan 9th, 2011 | By Sharon Shaw Elrod MSW EdD | Category: Lifestyle, Health & Fitness

A recent study from the University of Pittsburg suggests senior citizens can get valuable information about life expectancy, based on their age and gait speed.  Gait speed is simply how fast you walk.    

The study looked at nine other studies from 1986 to 2000, using data accumulated from 34,485 seniors, aged 65 or older.  Their baseline gait speed was identified and followed for from 6 to 21 years.  Subjects were a mean age of 73.5, with a mean gait speed of .92 miles per second.  Of the 34k+ participants, about 17.5k died while being followed in the study.  Five year survival rate was almost 85%, with ten-year rate at almost 60%. 

The final results have a lot to say to us seniors who are interested in living longer and living productively.  Gait speed is clearly associated with survival, based on these nine studies.  What that means is that medical tests can now tell us how long we are expected to live, for both men and women, based upon our age. 

Researchers suggest these results indicate some of what we already know, that is that the health of our cardiovascular, musculature, respiratory, skeletal (etc) systems permit us to walk faster or slower, depending upon the state of health of those systems.  If they are compromised, longevity is compromised.  If they are healthy, we will probably live longer, barring the unexpected.

The importance of this study lies in determining what our gait speed is, and if lower than average for our age and sex, what systems might be impaired.  The information is primarily diagnostic.  We think it’s worth asking your primary care physician about.  S/he can refer you to a licensed physical therapist to determine your gait speed.

At this point, however, increasing how fast we walk may or may not have a relationship with life expectancy.  We just don’t know… yet.  The researchers suggest that will be an interesting next step for another study.



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