When you walk around during the day, are you a speed demon or a snail? Your walking speed may say something about your overall health and your risk of mortality. A number of studies have looked at walking speed and its association with mortality and various health problems. It turns out walking speed may be a new marker for health and longevity.
Walking: It Takes More Brain Power than You Think
Putting one leg in front of the other to walk sounds pretty straightforward but it requires more brain power than you think. You have to have good motor and balance skills and you have to be aware of terrain changes and obstacles in your path to avoid a collision or fall. Walking also requires coordination skills. Because walking quickly requires a certain degree of brain power, researchers have looked at whether walking speeds are correlated with brain health.
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic monitored the walking speed of almost 1,400 people over a 15 month period. In this study, slow walking speed was a marker for future cognitive problems. Participants that had a slower walking speed and stride were more likely to develop memory and cognitive issues compared to participants that walked at a brisker pace.
Other studies show a similar link between walking speed and brain health, enough to make experts think a reduction in walking speed could be an early warning sign of cognitive problems even before memory changes appear.
Walking Speed: A Marker for Mortality
How fast you walk may say something about your risk of dying too. When researchers gathered walking speed data on more than 38,000 people and compared it to death rates over a ten year period, they found a link between slower walking speeds and a greater risk for mortality. Those with slow walking speeds were 44% more likely to die over the next decade relative to those that walked a brisk pace. In older people, faster walking speed is correlated with better self-rated health.
How Fast is Fast?
What’s considered a brisk walking speed? In these studies, the fastest walkers strolled at a pace as fast as 13.5 minutes per mile. At this speed, you’re close to a jog. At the other end of the spectrum, the slowest walkers took 24 or more minutes to complete a mile. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a brisk walking speed is a pace of 3 miles per hour or greater. At this speed, you should be able to complete a mile in 20 minutes.
How fast do most people walk? The average person’s preferred walking speed is around 3.1 miles per hour. It’s not surprising that faster walking speed is linked with better health and longevity. People who walk briskly are more likely to have better muscle and joint biomechanics, good balance skills and a healthy brain and nervous system. Walking briskly also requires good heart and lung function along with adequate energy and motivation. These are all markers for better physical and mental health.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, walking speed may predict longevity as well as other more commonly used markers like body weight, blood pressure, and smoking status. Based on research, they believe a walking speed of 2.2 miles per hour or greater is a marker for healthy aging.
What’s Your Walking Speed?
It’s not hard to measure your own walking speed using a stopwatch. If you’re a speed demon, you’re probably in pretty good health overall. Most people slow down a bit with age but by doing regular workouts to improve your endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility you may still be going strong well into the later decades of life.
Research clearly shows exercise is beneficial at all stages of life and can slow down the aging process by preserving bone and muscle mass, maintaining muscle strength and functionality and by reducing the risk of a number of health problems including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, some forms of cancer and obesity. It can even improve your mood! Research shows exercise may be as effective as prescription medications for helping people with heart disease, stroke or metabolic syndrome.
If you’re not routinely a fast walker, pick up the speed when you’re out and about. You’ll burn more calories, increase insulin sensitivity and get cardiovascular benefits if you’re moving quickly enough. Be aware of how fast you’re walking and challenge yourself to move faster. Tackle the stairs instead of taking the elevator. It’s not just your scheduled workout that counts – it’s all the movement you do throughout the day. So, keep moving!
Time Magazine. “What Does Your Walking Speed Say about Your Alzheimer’s Risk?”
Science Daily. “Slow walking speed, memory complaints can predict dementia” (July 25, 2014)
New York Times. “Why a Brisk Walk is Better”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Measuring Physical Activity Intensity”
J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci (2001) 56 (10): M609-M617.. doi: 10.1093/gerona/56.10.M609
Scope. “The exercise pill: A better prescription than drugs for patients with heart problems?” Stanford University. (2013)
Harvard School of Public Health. “The Benefits of Physical Activity”
Related Articles By Cathe: