A study just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) examined the walking speed of older adults to see how it affected their life expectancy. The study analyzed the results of nine other scientific studies as well.
All nine studies combined together totaled more than 34,000 senior adults, 65 years of age and older. Their average age was 73. Sixty percent were women, and 80% were white. This group was followed for 6 to 21 years. In all the studies there were 17,528 deaths.
Researchers measured walking speed at the beginning of the study, by timing subjects at their normal, comfortable walking pace for a distance of about 13 feet.
Normal walking requires teamwork in the body starting with the muscles, bones, and joints. Its also a workout of the heart, lungs, and circulation, coordinated by nerves and the brain.
At age 75, predicted 10-year survival was only 19% for the slowest walkers but an astounding 87% for the fastest walkers. For the slowest women the 10-year survival was 35% and for those with the fastest gait it was 91%.
Predicting survival based age and walking speed proved to be as accurate as predictions based on age, chronic conditions, smoking history, blood pressure, body mass index, and hospitalization.
Ellen White, a 19th century health reformer, predicted the benefits of walking more than 100 years ago. Notice the wisdom in the following quotation:
“When the weather will permit, all who can possibly do so ought to walk in the open air every day, summer and winter. But the clothing should be suitable for the exercise, and the feet should be well protected. A walk, even in winter, would be more beneficial to the health than all the medicine the doctors may prescribe. For those who can walk, walking is preferable to riding. The muscles and veins are enabled better to perform their work. There will be increased vitality, which is so necessary to health. The lungs will have needful action; for it is impossible to go out in the bracing air of a winter's morning without inflating the lungs.” (Counsels on Health, 52)