In a new study, researchers found the walking speed of 45-year-olds, particularly their fastest walking speed without running, can be used as a marker of their aging brains and bodies
The research was conducted by a team from Duke University and elsewhere.
The team found slower walkers have “accelerated aging” on a 19-measure scale developed by researchers, and their lungs, teeth and immune systems tended to be in worse shape than the people who walked faster.
They say the thing that’s really striking is that this is in 45-year-old people, not the older patients who are usually assessed with such measures. .
Equally striking, neurocognitive testing that these individuals took as children could predict who would become the slower walkers.
For example, at age 3, their scores on IQ, understanding language, frustration tolerance, motor skills, and emotional control predicted their walking speed at age 45.
Previous research has shown that slow walkers in their seventies and eighties tend to die sooner than fast walkers their same age
But this study covered the period from the preschool years to midlife and found that a slow walk is a problem sign decades before old age.
In the study, the team examined data of nearly 1,000 people who were born during a single year in Dunedin, New Zealand.
The 904 research participants in the current study have been tested, quizzed and measured their entire lives, most recently from April 2017 to April 2019 at age 45.
The team found that MRI exams during their last assessment showed the slower walkers tended to have lower total brain volume, lower mean cortical thickness, less brain surface area and higher incidence of white matter “hyperintensities,” small lesions associated with small vessel disease of the brain. In short, their brains appeared somewhat older.
Adding insult to injury perhaps, the slower walkers also looked older to a panel of eight screeners who assessed each participant’s ‘facial age’ from a photograph.
Gait speed has long been used as a measure of health and aging in geriatric patients, but what’s new in this study is the relative youth of these study subjects and the ability to see how walking speed matches up with health measures the study has collected during their lives.
The team says some of the differences in health and cognition may be tied to lifestyle choices these individuals have made.
But the study also suggests that there are already signs in the early life of who would become the slowest walkers.
The lead author of the study is Line J.H. Rasmussen, a post-doctoral researcher at the Duke University.
The study is published in JAMA Network Open.
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