Walking speed predicts seniors’ life expectancy

Walking speed

Walking speed, so it seems, can be a predictor of a person’s life expectancy. Much like vital signs such as pulse and blood pressure. Or how much a person weighs and how much alcohol they drink or exercise they do. Last year, medical scientists labelled loneliness as a useful predictor of a person’s health and life-span. I wrote a blog, ‘Is loneliness the next big health threat?’.

The new threat is walking slowly.

We all know walking’s important for everyone

Here’s a list, with thanks, straight from the Better Health Channel.

Walking can:

  • Strengthen your muscles.
  • Help keep your weight steady.
  • Lower your risk of heart diseasestrokecolon cancer and diabetes.
  • Strengthen your bones, and prevent osteoporosis and osteoarthritis (regular walking could halve the number of people over 45 who fracture their hip).
  • Help reduce blood pressure in some people with hypertension.
  • Improve your balance and coordination, and decrease your likelihood of falling.
  • Keep your joints flexible.
  • Increase your confidence and mood, and help you feel better all round.
  • Improve your energy levels and increase your stamina.
  • Reduce anxiety or depression.
  • Improve your social life – walking is a great way to get out and meet people or socialise with your friends.

The Better Health Channel also says that older people who cannot walk, or walk at a reasonable gait, are less likely to be able to care for themselves. Their quality of life deteriorates dramatically.

Why I’m thinking about walking speed

Do you ever wonder why the Universe delivers messages and then repeats itself until we take notice? It feels uncanny when it happens but also reminds me ofchildhood reading adventures.

I started to read when I was very young. As my vocabulary extended, it seemed that when I learned a new word that word would pop up again in a different context. These days messages about walking faster bombard me. The Universe wants me to take notice.

Recent messages

Recent messages about walking speed:

  • Over the past twelve months, COVID-19 and other major life events have stressed me.
  • Pain from arthritis, especially in my knees and hands, seems worse. Arthritis struck me in my forties. I managed largely to ignore it or pretend it belonged to someone else. But, joint-by-joint my body changes.
  • Once an enthusiastic walker, I now prefer to swim. In the pool I can go for fifty laps without a stop. Swimming cradles my joints. Walking? Not so much. And now I walk more slowly than I’d like.
  • I hurt my hip. Again. Diagnosed as bursitis, this injury recurs with regularity. I wish it wouldn’t. Rest and ice don’t help much. Half-a-dozen trips to the physiotherapist might help a bit. I’d rather wait and see what happens.
  • Watching the delightful ABC documentary, ‘Aged care homes for 4 year olds‘, I heard a comment that resonated. One of the geriatricians, discussing an older woman’s gait and fear of falling, said, ‘If she used a walking aid, she’d be much better off’. If you haven’t seen this series, it’s available on i-view. A delight and something for everyone.
  • Over coffee, a friend confessed she’s thinking about getting a walker to help her gait and speed.
  • A neighbour whose company I enjoy said she was off to her ‘balance class’ and couldn’t stop to chat.
  • A few days later, an article popped up in my inbox from the McMaster Optimal Ageing Portal about seniors walking more briskly. Material on this website is evidence based, sensible and comes from the reputable McMaster University in Canada.
  • A Google search on the topic led me to think I’ve been hiding from information that’s been around for years.

Too many messages. I get it. Time for a change.

Some solutions

Thank goodness there are solutions when someone discovers they need to increase their gait.

  • Making a decision to change and developing new habits.
  • Obviously walking more often and faster will help.
  • Walking with (a hopefully fitter) friend will provide confidence and encouragement.
  • Leg muscle and balance exercises will increase strength and confidence.
  • Balance classes and/or chair yoga could be fun (and helpful).
  • Many different mobility aids are available. I’m impressed that some are relatively inexpensive and quite portable. But I’d rather do without for a year or two and see what else would work. Below, you can see the progression from a walking stick. None appeals!
mobility aids

My plan to increase walking speed

A few years ago, I bought a very fancy walking stick at Jenny’s insistence. It seemed like a good idea at the time. It’s a fold-up model painted black with yellow and white daisies. Quite decorative, but I’ve never used it. I don’t want a walking stick.

Some of my family went off holidaying in Karijini National Park for a week last month. Some, including a granddaughter, took hiking sticks bought from a sports store. They used them regularly.

Another quick check, this time on You tube revealed Nordic Walking as a way for old people to increase their speed and mobility.

A trip to the sports store, and here I am, the proud possessor of my own hiking sticks and basic knowledge of how to use them.

Hiking sticks

Parks in Subiaco are lovely. Some have inclines of various degrees, but all have good, solid paths.

For the last week, John has come with me every day to walk in the park closest to home. At first I felt awkward and uncoordinated, but soon my rhythm improved and so did my walking speed. The sticks are more elegant than walking sticks or crutches and feel quite jaunty.

I can feel my posture and balance improving. Lifting and positioning sticks 3-4000 times a day might eventually also do something to my biceps. Hopefully.

I love my new pastime, especially as we’ve been out of the pool for a couple of weeks of COVID-19 imposed lock-down.

Balance classes with my neighbour, and perhaps also chair yoga, are in my sights. But these might take a while. My motto remains for this year at least, ‘baby steps’.

I’ll keep you posted about my progress. Meanwhile, you or someone you care about might like to think about whether mobility and walking pace are important. Please share this if you think it might be helpful to someone. And I love comments!


6 replies on “Walking speed predicts seniors’ life expectancy”

    1. Thanks, Michelle. A couple of weeks into the new program, I’m enjoying walking and proud of walking faster than before. I just need to keep it up!

        1. We must always pause our walking for flowers and birds and sunsets, Michele! But in between it’s probably good to walk as fast as we can. That way we cover more ground, and come across more things we need to admire, or to stand in awe of.

    1. Thanks, Fiona. I like the poles even better now I’m not hampered by a mask. Such freedom, to have one’s face bare! Whoever would have thought that I’d be writing that sentence in Perth, but masks seem to be very much on again off again accessories these days. My walking speed continues to increase.

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