Middle-aged Slow Walkers More Vulnerable to Sickness When They Get Older: Study
Wed, April 21, 2021

Middle-aged Slow Walkers More Vulnerable to Sickness When They Get Older: Study

Researchers found out that people who walk fast have a lower risk of mortality / Photo Credit: Shutterstock


How fast a person walks doesn't only indicate how much they're in a rush, but it may also be a marker of their health.

A new study from Duke University suggests that people who walk fast are more likely to live longer than those who stroll at a slower pace—especially for middle-aged people. Measuring a person's walking speed could predict their chances of developing killer diseases, including dementia, years even before symptoms begin to appear.

Signs of accelerated aging

Among the 904 participants in the study, the researchers found that the slower walkers showed signs of "accelerated aging" on their 19-measure scale by the time they reached 45. Their lungs, teeth, and immune systems were also in worse shape compared to fast-paced walkers.

British online newspaper The Independent reported that dawdlers also have lower total brain volume, less brain surface area, and had more small lesions in the brain—all of which are signs that a person is much older. These participants also appeared older, according to a panel that assessed their "facial age" from a photograph.

According to the study published in the journal JAMA Network Open, analyzing a person's brain when they were merely three years old can help determine how fast they walk when they reach their middle age. IQ scores, language comprehension, motor skills, and emotional control are measured to predict their walking speed.



Children who grew up as slower walkers (with a mean speed of 1.21 meters a second) have an IQ difference of 16 points with those who grew up as fast-paced walkers (with a mean speed of 1.75 meters a second).

Results showed that cognitive functions such as memory and walking speed may be associated with the ability to walk, along with the interplay of many organs.

Senior author Terrie E. Moffitt told The Independent that a person's walking pace depends on how well all these systems are working together, and slower walking speed may be an indication of advanced aging as well as the deteriorating function of these organ systems.

"This inexpensive and quick test tells us a lot about their inner health, and how fast their organ systems and brains are aging toward later diseases," Moffitt added.

The link between walking speed and poor health

Stephanie Studenski from the University of Pittsburgh, who was not involved in the study, said that determining gait speed may be an inexpensive way to analyze a person's well-being across adulthood.

"The study confirms that a subset of persons in their 40s already show indicators of future health challenges and are already aging more quickly than their peers," Studenski said. She added that the study also indicates that unknown factors that affected a person when they were three years old also affected their health and function 40 years later.

The results of the study supported earlier work that suggested a link between slow walking speed and poor health.



In a study published last year, researchers from the University of Sydney analyzed data on 50,225 walkers in 11 population-based surveys in the UK from 1994 to 2008. They found that "average" walking speed was associated with a 20 percent lower risk of mortality regardless of the cause. But for those who walk at a "fast" pace (generally five to seven kph, as per lead researcher Emmanuel Stamatakis), had a 24 percent lower risk.

The researchers also found that older individuals will reap more benefits if they walk faster, according to web-based outlet Medical News Today. Those aged 60 and above have a 46 percent lower risk of cardiovascular-related death if they walk at an average pace and a 53 percent lower risk if they walked fast.

Lifestyle choices

Scientists say the differences in health and cognition may be linked to a person's life choices, not just their walking speed. Still, the recent study suggested that there are markers in early life of who will likely grow up as slower walkers.

"We may have a chance here to see who’s going to do better health-wise in later life," said lead researcher Line J.H. Rasmussen.

Although walking has long been promoted to be beneficial for the overall bodily function, public health messages forget the importance of the walking pace, which Stamatakis said is especially true when a person can't walk more due to time pressures or the environment they are in.


Walking has been very beneficial for once health / Photo Credit: Shutterstock


"Walking faster may be a good option to get the heart rate up—one that most people can easily incorporate into their lives."

Although it is complicated to establish the cause-and-effect relationships within this context, assuming that such results do reflect so suggests that increasing walking pace could be a direct way for people to not only improve their health but also to lower the risk of premature mortality.

These interventions also lower the chances of developing diseases such as dementia, which affects 50 million worldwide and leads to 10 million new cases every year, according to the World Health Organization.