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Did You Know Walking Speed May Predict Who Will Live Longer?

There are many vital signs to indicate how your body is performing. Your physicians tracks your blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate to monitor your overall health - but did you know that walking speed can also be an important vital sign to predict your overall health, well-being and ability to stay independent as you age? Walking speed or “gait velocity” is measured by timing you as you walk an established distance.

Although walking may seem like the simplest of tasks, it is actually a complex symphony involving many of the body’s systems. In order to walk, our bodies must coordinate balance, muscle contraction and relaxation, as well as adjust the cardiovascular system. As you can imagine, a simple change in any of these systems could cause a change in your ability to walk, thus reducing your walking speed. This is the reason walking speed is now being considered a “vital sign.”

Research has shown that the normal walking speed of an older adult (over age 65) is 1.8-2.7 mph. There has also been significant research demonstrating that as walking speed decreases from the normal range, an individual becomes less likely to be able to stay at home safely and may be at a greater risk for injuries and other medical complications including possible increased risk of death. The good news - research indicates that improvement in walking speed is linked to a reduction in medical complications and an improved ability to stay independent. One study showed that individuals with improved walking speed had a 10% less likelihood of medical decline compared to those whose speed remained the same. So, just by improving the speed at which you walk, you can have a positive effect on your overall health.

What can you do? If you have difficulty walking when out in the community, you may benefit from the assistance of a home health physical therapist. A home health physical therapist can work with you in your own homes to evaluate your walking speed and overall function and safety. After a comprehensive evaluation, the therapist can develop safe and effective programs including ways to increase flexibility, improve balance, and build endurance and strength to improve your walking speed, functional activity and overall health status.

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