Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Importance of Walking Speed

If you meet a person, and you want to know how much longer they will live, and what their remaining quality of life will be, what information would you want to know?

If you ask most physicians this question, they may answer something along the lines of whether they have cardiac or pulmonary disease.

Turns out, though, that a better way to answer the question is to assess their functional status.  The two most important factor that determine future quality of life are age and gender (women do better, which will be a topic for another day).  The third most important factor, perhaps surprisingly, is how fast does the person walk.

Walking speed is a great functional measure.  It's easy to measure, and captures a lot of information in a way that makes it a terrific summary measure.

For example, there are many older individuals who have multiple medical morbidities- diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, hypertension.  I probably know 100 people like that, and even if you are not a physician, you probably know many people who fit that profile.

Even with all those different disease states, they can be very different functionally.  If I meet two people who are aged 70, one can be a "young 70" and another can be an "old 70."  Walking speed is a great way of distinguishing which is which.

For those who want to learn more about the importance of gait speed in assessing health status, I encourage you to look up the research from Stephanie Studenski.

For the lay public, I would simply self-monitor the gait speed of yourself and the people you care about.  If you have an older loved one, and you are trying to figure out whether they are healthy and how long they will be able to stay independent and take care of themself, monitor how fast they walk.  That is more valuable than just about anything else in assessing how healthy they are.

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