How quickly you are able to walk in middle age can be a good indicator of how fast you are aging, according to new research done at Duke University. The study was published in JAMA Network Open in October this year.
This latest look at how our gait and overall health are related follows an earlier study that examined this connection, but pays particular attention to 45-year-olds.
The study, which uses data spanning decades, analysed information collected from more than 1,000 New Zealanders who were born between 1972 and 1973. When they were just three years old, participants were examined by a paediatric neurologist, with everything from their language and motor skills to emotional and behavioural regulation and intelligence being measured. The participants underwent regular health assessments over the years, in addition to being interviewed.
The gait speed of 904 of the participants was measured using a simple test at age 45, and researchers also used 19 health markers (including BMI, blood pressure and cholesterol levels) to determine how quickly they were aging. Facial aging was also rated, and researchers did brain MRIs and conducted the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-IV test.
The results were threefold: researchers found that a slow gait was indicative of both “poor physical function at midlife”, as well as accelerated aging, both in physical and in cognitive terms.
Researchers were also able to draw comparisons between those participants who exhibited lower neurocognitive functioning at age three, and had a slower walking speed at 45.
Speaking to Health, lead author Line Jee Hartmann Rasmussen says that walking gives us a treasure trove of information about how our bodies are aging.
“Walking seems like such a simple thing, but walking actually requires the function and interplay of many different organ systems at the same time, including your bones, heart, lungs, muscles, vision, nervous systems, and so on.”
“Keeping healthy and exercising your lungs, brain, heart etc., may improve your physical and cognitive health and thus your gait speed,” says Rasmussen.