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Seniors' walking pace may predict longevity

Many of those who went the equivalent of 2 1/2 mph on a treadmill ended up outliving the slower ones.

December 10, 2007|Sandra G. Boodman | Washington Post

How fast an older person walks may predict long-term survival, report researchers at the University of Pittsburgh who found that faster walkers were substantially more likely to outlive the slowest.

The report, presented recently at the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, is based on an analysis of data involving 492 adults age 65 and older. Research data analyst Yazan F. Roumani and geriatrician Stephanie Studenski, a professor of medicine at Pitt, tracked the group of Kansas City, Mo., residents for a decade.

After nine years, 27% of the fastest walkers -- those who covered the equivalent of 2 1/2 miles per hour on a treadmill -- had died, compared with 77% of the slowest walkers, who were able to walk less than a 1 1/2 miles in an hour.

Researchers adjusted for sex, race, age, chronic illness and hospitalization and found that walking speed appeared to be an independent predictor of longevity.

"The reality of this pervades popular knowledge," Studenski said, citing the familiar sayings that an older person is "slowing down" or "still has a spring in their step."

"This is a very simple analysis," she said. "What was astonishing to me was how powerful that simple information was" and how it might serve as an early warning for physicians.

Walking speed can mirror the health of many body parts -- heart, lungs, limbs, circulatory system -- and a decline, especially in the absence of a specific diagnosis that would explain it, such as heart failure, might prompt doctors to investigate further.

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