Did you know your walking speed might even be able to predict your lifespan? That’s what one study found! We all know walking is great for health, but being able to walk at a brisk pace is an important predictor of our overall health.
Are you a fast walker by nature? Or do you prefer to get your steps in through a leisurely stroll? A study conducted in 2011 found that walking speed is actually a predictor of how long you may live! Let’s take a peek at what that study had to say and see if there are any take away points for those of us trying to maintain good health through the steps we take.
Faster Pace Equals Longer Life
The study originally published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) evaluated “the relationship between gait speed and survival.” It evaluated 34,485 individuals, both men and women, aged 65 years and greater. The study found a correlation between walking speed and lifespan. Individuals who had average walking speeds (0.8 meters/second) had average lifespans. Those whose walking speed was 1.0 meters/second or greater, however, had a longer life expectancy! The study concluded that gait speeds faster than 1.0 meters/second could be indicative of healthier aging, whereas speeds slower than 0.6 meters/second could represent a declining health status. If 1.0 meters/second could mean greater than average life expectancy, than anything greater than that could mean exceptional life expectancy.
What the study DOESN’T say!
Although there was a correlation between slower walking and a shorter lifespan, the study did not determine that merely walking slowly CAUSED a decline in lifespan. It’s likely that slower walking speeds are a marker of poor health, and aren’t caused by a conscious decision to walk more slowly.
It also did not determine whether working to increase your walking speed could result in better health outcomes. More research would be needed to show that someone with a slow walking speed who underwent a fitness routine and picked up the pace did better. Still, being able to naturally walk faster is a sign of better health, and being able to maintain a brisk walk for longer is certainly good for you.
Finally, the study participants were all over 65, so the results may not apply to younger people. Lack of exercise and activity can lead to a range of health problems at any age, and it stands to reason that people who can’t walk easily at a younger age would also have trouble walking at an older age.
What is the average walking speed?
The average human walks 3-4 miles per hour when keeping a brisk pace. This equates to 1.34 meters per second. As we age, our walking speed naturally declines. What may not have been “brisk” when we were younger is now a good, brisk pace. But how can you tell if you are indeed keeping a brisk pace?
How to Determine Walking Speed
An easy way to determine walking speed is to use Pacer’s GPS tracking. Pacer’s GPS walk tracking gives you a map of your route, as well as your time, distance and speed measurements. Find it by swiping left on the main Pacer screen.
You can also walk a predetermined route you know the distance of, and check the time when you’re done. To find your speed in miles per hour, start with the number 60 and divide it by the number of minutes walked (because there are 60 minutes in an hour). If you walked 30 minutes, divide 60 by 30. Then, multiply that number by the number of miles walked. Walking 3 miles in 30 minutes would give you: 60/30 = 2. 2 x 3 = 6. You will have walked 6 miles per hour. We find just using Pacer to track yourself to be a lot easier!
If you are extra diligent and interested in calculating how many meters per second you are walking, simply divide miles per hour by 2.237. Therefore, walking 6 miles per hour would be 2.68 meters per second.
You can also try to gauge the speed of your walking based on the intensity. It will be less precise, but requires less work on your end. VeryWellFit decodes it this way,
Light = easy walk, ❤ mph
Moderate = brisk walk, 3-4 mph
Medium = fast walking, 4-5 mph
It’s important to note that measuring speed by how you feel can be misleading, because a pace that an experienced person thinks is “light” might be moderate or medium (or difficult) for someone new to walking.
How to Pick up the Pace
The following are some tips from PBS on how to develop a quicker walking routine.
- Posture is key. Keep your back straight, chin up and shoulders relaxed.
- Keep your arms tucked in close to your body but able to swing naturally and bent at a right angle.
- Push off the toes as you walk.
- Try to take quicker steps. You’ll naturally take longer steps as you walk faster.
You can also try using intervals to alternate walking quickly and slowly to get more out of your workout. Here’s a 30-minute walk that varies your speed and can get you moving without needing to maintain a fast walk for the entire time.
What Factors Contribute to Walking Slower/Walking Faster?
If you find that you are not able to keep the same pace that you once did, don’t panic. This is not necessarily an indicator of a decline in health! Some factors that decrease our speed, like aging, are unavoidable. From our 30’s-50’s, average walking speeds drop from 3.2/mph to 2.93/mph. Other factors such as illness or injuries can prevent us from keeping the pace like we once did. Conditions such as arthritis may limit your speed by making walking painful at times. Men also tend to naturally be able to walk faster than women, although of course that’s not true in all cases!
There are a lot of factors you can control though, including your fitness level and weight. As your physical conditioning improves and your BMI moves towards a normal range, your walking speed will increase as well. Being lighter on your feet, having greater lung capacity and a more efficiently pumping heart will make your daily walk a breeze. You’ll find you can walk at a brisk pace much longer than before.
What if I notice I’m walking much more slowly?
It’s not a guaranteed sign that you’re health is poor, but it could be an early indicator of health problems that you’re not aware of. Check with your doctor for a physical or other examination to find out if there’s anything new that’s causing your decline in walking speed. It’s natural that some days people just don’t have a great deal of energy, so don’t panic if you hit a lull in your walking routine. If pain, tiredness or difficulty walking persists, however, make sure to get yourself checked out!
Keeping on target with your walking routine will bring you closer to your fitness goals and help you realize better health now. And as research is showing, it might even lead to a longer life as well.