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Walking is important for health, but walking speed is also important. It turns out that slow walking speed or gait (particularly when trying to walk as fast as possible) is a problem sign already in mid-life (the 40s). Researchers found that slow walking speed is a sign of "accelerated aging",  and that slow walkers exhibited such signs as reduced brain volume, cortical thinning, and reduced brain surface area.

The Duke University researchers found that a slow walking speed at midlife was associated with poorer mental functioning, and that there was an average difference of 16 IQ points between the slowest and fastest walkers. The researchers point out that this matches other studies showing that there is an association of slow walking speed of older adults and cognitive impairment and risk of dementia. The researchers viewed midlife gait speed as a summary of life-long aging, and felt that some differences were apparent already at the age of three. [This was a 5 decade long study in New Zealand of 904 persons.]

From Medical Xpress: Slower walkers have older brains and bodies at 45

The walking speed of 45-year-olds, particularly their fastest walking speed without running, can be used as a marker of their aging brains and bodies ...continue reading "Are You A Slow Or Fast Walker?"

A wonderful commentary by Dr. Mandrola about recent research of almost 500,000 UK citizens. Researchers found that just asking the patient several basic questions was a better predictor of 5 year mortality than all sorts of blood tests, measurements, and analyses. The best basic questions were: Is your health excellent, good, average, or poor? Is your walking pace slow, average, or brisk? Along with smoking, those two basic questions were the best predictors of staying alive in the next 5 years. These excerpts are from Medscape:

Health Is Not Complicated—Just Ask the Patient

It turns out predicting health is not so complicated. Nor is it digital at all. For persons of middle age (40 to 70 years), self-reported overall health and walking speed were the best predictors of death in the next 5 years, according to a study published this week in the Lancet.[1]

In an analysis of nearly 500,000 UK citizens followed for 5 years, these two simple questions outperformed 655 measurements of demographics, health, and lifestyle. Is your health excellent, good, average, or poor? Is your walking pace slow, average, or brisk? Along with smoking, those two basic questions, inquiries that hardly require a digital device, were the best predictors of staying alive in the next 5 years.

Pause for a moment here and ponder the beauty of that top-line result. Half a million people followed for 5 years; 655 measures of health, including heart rate, blood pressure, and lab tests, and the best predictors were that simple.

In the 5 years of follow-up, 8532 (1.7%) subjects died. Overall, cancer was the most common cause of death (53% in men; 69% in women). The most common cancer-related cause of death was lung cancer in men (n=546) and breast cancer in women (n=489). Cardiovascular disease was the second leading cause of death (26% in men; 33% in women).


There were gender differences in predictors of death. Self-reported health was the strongest predictor of death in men (C index 0.74). In women, a previous cancer diagnosis was the strongest predictor (C index 0.73).Self-reported walking pace was a strong predictor of death in both men and women (C index 0.72 and 0.69, respectively.) For example, a man aged 40 to 52 years who reported a slow walking pace was 3.7 times more likely to die than a similarly aged man who reported a steady walking pace. In a large subset of subjects with no reported health conditions, smoking was the best predictor of mortality.


The final, and perhaps niftiest, aspect of this study was that researchers developed an 11 to 13 question risk prediction score, which they then put on an interactive website. Anyone can answer these simple questions and get their health-related age relative to the UK population. The researchers call this age the UK Longevity Explorer (UbbLE) age.

I am drawn to these findings because they emphasize something that is increasingly lost on both doctors and patients. True health is not complicated. And the big picture is still useful.Any experienced clinician will testify that patients know when they are well and when they are not. The finding that self-reported health predicts death urges clinicians, generalists and specialists alike, to ask our patients how they feel about their health.

Then there is the matter of self-reported walking pace. How easy it is to be distracted by digital data. We walk into the exam room to see our patient. He is still. We look at him. We poke and listen to his body. We assess his ECG and other measures. Soon we will review his smartphone metrics and DNA data. Yet we tend to forget the obvious: to move is to be healthy. Drs Ganna and Ingelsson teach us that to move briskly may be healthier.