Senior Gait Speed and Life Expectancy

Bob (not his real name) is an active man in his mid-90’s. Whenever we made early morning visits to his senior community, we found him up and walking before breakfast. If the day was especially cold, he made rounds of the various corridors, regularly changing floors and always waving a cheerful good-morning to residents emerging from their apartments. Suffice it to say, he was vigorous. Watching Bob made me wonder about walking and older seniors and also made me think about the need to keep moving.

Early this month (January 2011), the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published an article, Gait Speed and Survival in Older Adults (abstract — article is not freely available). Researchers analyzed data from nine studies that examined gait and older adults, and the participants in all of the studies were community dwelling seniors, 34,485 in all. All were age 65 and older, and African-American and Hispanic communities were well represented. An individual’s gait speed was calculated in meters per second after walking from eight feet to six meters.

The participants in all of the studies were followed for significant periods so the researchers in this pooled analysis were able to compare gait speed, an individual’s age, and survival time. A strong association was found between the speed that a person walks and the length of time that individual lived after his or her gait was evaluated. Moreover, because of the large sample of participants, the article reported, “Compared with prior studies that were too small to assess potential effect and modification by age, sex, race/ethnicity and other subgroups, we were able to assess multiple subgroup effects with substantial power.”

In USA Today, lead researcher Stephanie Studenski, M.D., of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicinecommented, “The findings can provide doctors with an inexpensive, safe, and simple way of measuring performance that can help identify health problems, and in many cases lead to treatments that can improve well-being, ward off disabilities and help the elderly maintain independence.” Dr Studenski is the Director of Clinical Research at the University of Pittsburgh Institute on Aging.

Other Reports About this Study

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