Slow walking in daily life increases mortality risk in older people.

Years ago I worked in a department with many people over age 55. I confess: I had no tolerance for slow walkers, as they headed out of the department for lunch break, me stuck behind them in the narrow hall.

I was never ahead of them because my workstation was far from the exit, while theirs was much closer.

Getting stuck behind these slow walkers cost me time on my lunch break; when you have a 35 minute lunch break, every single minute counts.

These men thought I was gruff and impatient, but I always had an inkling that they were doing their bodies a grave disservice by always walking so slowly.

And I was right. Because years later, research began mounting about the deleterious effects of slow walking on health.

Faster walking speed correlates to longer lifespan, says a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

I always used to think (and still do, actually) that slow walking was rude to anyone behind the walker who couldn’t get past due to a narrow walkway.

Call me ridiculously impatient, but at least I’m not one of these drivers who thinks that 70 mph is too slow and hence tailgates at this speed!

I wonder how fast these high speed tailgaters walk; I’m betting they move like slugs and think nothing of impeding the people behind them in narrow walkways.

Though the JAMA study focuses on older adults, it stands to reason that if you want to be a brisk walker in older age, you should begin walking fast when you’re younger. I’m flabbergasted at how so few younger adults have a perk in their step.

Walking Speed and Survival

Stephanie Studenski, MD, led the study of 34,485 adults over age 65. The analyses, which covered many years, revealed that walking speed was associated with variations in the likelihood of survival at all ages in men and women, but was particularly correlative over age 75.

“Predicted years of remaining life for each sex and age increased as gait speed increased, with a gait speed of about 0.8 meters [2.6 feet]/second at the median [midpoint] life expectancy at most ages for both sexes,” says the report.

Another finding was that when survival was predicted based upon gender, age and walking speed, this was just as accurate as predicting mortality based upon gender, age, self-reported function, chronic conditions, blood pressure, smoking and body mass index.

Why does walking speed predict mortality?

The paper points out that walking requires energy and control of movement, imposing demands on various bodily systems.

A person who walks slowly may have damaged organs. (But I’m betting that slow older walkers were also slow when they were young. After all, do slow young walkers turn into fast older walkers?)

As a fitness expert, I propose an additional explanation: If you don’t use it you’ll lose it.

Nevertheless, at a minimum, making a habit of walking briskly in daily life will certainly make it easier for you to move fast when you have to. You won’t get fatigued or feel exhausted after doing a lot of required fast walking if your body is already used to this.