The walking speed of a person can reveal how healthy and mentally fit he is. Those who can walk faster in middle age are biologically younger and smarter than slow goers, researchers write around Line Jee Hartmann Rasmussen of Duke University, North Carolina, in the Jama Network Open journal. The special feature of the investigation: The participants were only 45 years old. Previously, this relationship was especially known to significantly older people.
The 904 subjects in the study were born in 1972 or 1973 in the New Zealand city of Dunedin and have since been repeatedly examined medically. These included a gait analysis and a brain scan. For the current exam, the participants should first go at their normal speed, then they had to solve tasks and finally go as fast as they can.
Slow biological five years older
Formally, all participants were about the same age, but the researchers also determined their biological age on the basis of various measurements such as blood pressure, tidal volume and heart rate. In addition, the rating was included in a jury, which estimated the age of the subjects based on their appearance.
The result: Some subjects were as healthy and fit as if they were several years younger. The effect was especially noticeable at top speed. Especially those who were able to walk very fast were young. The fifth of the subjects with the lowest walking speed had aged five years faster than the fastest-moving fifth between the ages of 26 and 45 years.
The slowest goers also showed an average of 16 points lower intelligence quotient than the fastest goers and a smaller thickness of the cerebral cortex.
That exercise can promote mental fitness is already known from previous studies. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently recommended exercise to prevent dementia. However, why fit people are mentally healthier is unclear. For example, it could be that intelligent people move more on average. It would also be conceivable that the movement keeps the brain healthy.
In the current study, subjects who performed rather poorly at the age of three were often slower at 45 years of age. At that time, a child neurologist used standardized tests to assess how intelligent the children were, how well they could speak, and motor skills and social behavior. "Maybe we have a chance to see who will do better health later in life," says Rasmussen. Extremely slow walking may also indicate possible changes in the central nervous system in childhood.
"Walking speed seems to be a valuable signal of potential health problems in middle-aged adults," says Stephanie Studenski of the University of Pittsburgh, who was not involved in the study.
How much a person should move each day to stay healthy is controversial. Researchers are increasingly doubting the much cited 10,000-step rule, which is not based on scientific research, but on a publicity stunt. (Read more here.) Recent analysis indicates that as many as 6,000 to 8,000 steps a day promote health similarly.