A key component of one’s health and “successful aging” is connected specifically to one aspect of daily function — walking. How is walking important? Simply stated, research shows our natural walking speed is predictive of our mortality. But with walking and “gait”, the research goes much further.
What does your walking pattern say about you? One’s gait pattern can provide early diagnostic clues for a number of disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, Rett Syndrome, spinal stenosis, peripheral neuropathy, or mild cognitive impairment. Gait deficits have been matched to cardiovascular or neurological system problems. These deficits are seen in pediatric, youth, and young adult populations, and should be identified and corrected early. Pain is often not present with these gait abnormalities. However, the impact of not taking preventive health measures can lead to quite significant decline in future health. A good resource is an experienced Physical Therapist who practices detailed gait analysis with comprehensive services.
With physical fitness decline, obesity, neurological conditions, foot/ankle posture or joint changes, our balance, and balance confidence can decline. A person’s gait pattern can become “protective” or more guarded – causing a progressive muscle and postural pattern imbalance.
Gait speed has the potential to predict future health status, functional decline, hospitalization, discharge location, and mortality. For older adults, natural/confident gait speeds of greater than 2.2 mph or higher consistently demonstrated survival that was longer than expected by age and gender alone.
Gait speed that is naturally over 2.5 mph is associated with a reduced risk of these health conditions, in order of lower to higher risk of mortality: cardiovascular disease, ischemic heart disease, heart failure, hypertensive heart disease, diabetes, and dementia. “Normal” gait speed for healthy adults age 30 – 50 is 3.2 mph for men and 3.1 mph for women.
Gait Speed, Brain Function, Longevity: There is evidence that gait speed is positively associated with whole brain volume. Gait pattern abnormalities are also being measured, “typed” and are being shown as predictive of levels of dementia.
Conclusion: Your gait pattern, gait speed is a highly valuable measure of your health. Consider having your gait pattern and speed annually evaluated formally as part of your annual wellness assessment battery. Our Legacy Therapy & Wellness Group team is happy to help you!
Mark Mashburn, PT, OCS
Gait speed and survival in older adults. Studenski S, Perera S, Patel K, et al. JAMA. 2011;305(1):50- 58.
The Relationship of Walking Intensity to Total and Cause-Specific Mortality. Results from the National Walkers’ Health Study. Williams PT, Thompson PD. PLoS One. 2013; 8(11): e81098.
Trajectories of Gait Speed Predict Mortality in Well-Functioning Older Adults: The Health, Aging
and Body Composition Study. White DK, et al. Journals of Gerontology: MEDICAL SCIENCES
Cite journal as: J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2013 April;68(4):456–464.
Gait phenotype from mild cognitive impairment to moderate dementia: results from the GOOD initiative. Allali G et al. Eur J Neurol. 2015 Dec 14. doi: 10.1111/ene.12882. (Epub ahead of print)