A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) predicts life expectancy based on your gait (walking) speed. The research article included over 34,000 participants across 9 studies and followed individuals for 6-21 years. Researchers now believe that gait speed is an easy, safe and accurate way to measure function across multiple systems. Walking places demands on coordination, timing, musculoskeletal strength, heart/lung efficiency and balance among others. A decline in any one or all of these areas may result in a lower gait speed.
This research is primarily focused on adults 65 years and older but the most significant accuracy occurs after 75 years of age. For example, a 75 year old man with a gait speed of 1.2 meters/second has a median survival rate of 13 years. Compare that with 0.8 meters/second and the median life expectancy for that same man drops to 7 years.
Physical therapists have a unique ability to analyze and correct gait abnormalities. By addressing these underlying impairments, we can have a significant impact on improving gait speed. Based on this new research, it will not only improve a patient’s function but will also impact life expectancy!