Older people who walk quickly tend to live longer than those who slow way down as they age, found a new study.
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The findings do not mean that slow walkers are doomed to die early, the researchers warn. Nor will intentionally pushing yourself to hustle keep you young.
Instead, the study suggests that, like blood pressure and cholesterol levels, the pace that you feel comfortable walking at can be a simple sign of your overall health.
In turn, a simple walking test could help doctors and patients make decisions about when to perform certain screening tests -- and when not to.
"We are not saying that if you just go out and walk faster, you will live longer. Absolutely not," said Stephanie Studenski, a geriatrician at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and at the Veteran Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System. "We are saying your body selects a walking speed that is best for you based on the health of all your body systems."
"The best way to live as long and well as you can is to be in the best health you can be," she added. "Walking speed might help you reflect or monitor how healthy you are."
There has long been a sense that slowing down is an ominous sign of aging, and not just in people. As pets get older, they may need more rest stops during their morning walks. Even C. elegans worms that wiggle slowly die sooner than worms of the same age that wiggle more quickly.
"Whether you're conscious of it or not, you may feel like grandpa's doing pretty good because he's got a spring in his step, he's out moving around, and he looks lively. But I'm worried about Aunt Mary because she's slowing down a lot," Studenski said. "The observation that there's something about how well you move that reflects health is almost implicit in human experience."