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Are you a slow walker? Duke study says you may be aging faster

Posted October 30, 2019 1:44 p.m. EDT
Updated October 30, 2019 8:59 p.m. EDT

— The walking speeds of middle-aged people can be used to measure the speed of aging, according to a recent study in New Zealand involving researchers from Duke University.

"It's interesting because gait speed and walking speed are commonly used in geriatric medicine, so it's a common measure to test functional capacity in older patients, but it hasn't really been used in younger people," said lead researcher Line J.H. Rasmussen, a post-doctoral researcher in Duke's Department of Psychology & Neuroscience.

The study involved 900 people who were all born in the same year in the same city in New Zealand. Researchers began measuring their gait speeds when they turned 45 in 2017. They were particularly interested in how fast a person can walk without running.

"We wanted to see if, already at age 45, if we could see if gait speed or walking speed was associated with biological aging," Rasmussen said.

They found that it did. The slower walkers tested lower on a 19-measure scale that included lung, teeth and immunity shape. They also appeared to look older in the face.

"Well, that's good news," said Mary Ryder, who uses walking as her main form of exercise.

"Usually, when I walk here at the (gym), there are very few people who pass me, and I pass most everybody else who is walking," Ryder said.

Fast walkers are usually in better physical shape, which leads to better scores in accelerated aging categories.

"What gait speed or walking speed is actually capturing is your underlying health or organ function," Rasmussen said.

Researchers are hoping the new information can be used in medical exams to determine risks of disease and show how a person is aging as they reach middle age.

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