Researchers have found that being able to walk outside for several blocks at a leisurely pace plays an important role in living a vibrant, healthy life and may also predict future mobility problems.
The study, published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society, shows that being able to walk at even a slow speed is essential for these benefits, but walking too slowly may foreshadow future problems that could prevent a person from being fully mobile.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh in the US assessed ways to measure complex walking tasks to learn more about early, subtle changes in walking.
It was found that slow walking speed under both usual-pace and complex conditions was associated with greater risk for developing mobility disability.
Participants who reported having mobility disability were more likely to be female, have diabetes, be obese, have knee pain and experience breathing difficulty. They also had more symptoms of depression, researchers said.
Researchers analysed information from the Health Aging and Body Composition study which enrolled black and white adults in the US from 1997 to 1998. The 337 participants were 70 to 79 years old, and had no difficulty walking a quarter mile or climbing 10 steps without resting.
During the course of the study, participants walked on several different paths and were given several different challenges to measure their walking speed and their ability to cope with mental and physical tasks at the same time.
Researchers then followed up with participants every six months to see if they had any difficulty walking one-quarter mile due to a health or physical problem.
Participants reported mobility problems or disabilities every year at in-person visits. By the end of the eight-year follow-up, more than half of the participants had developed mobility disability, meaning they were unable to walk one-quarter mile.
Almost 40 per cent had developed chronic mobility disability that lasted at least two years.
The researchers concluded that measuring your simple walking speed may be enough to learn whether you might be at risk for future mobility problems.