If you want to live longer, then walk faster

Your walking speed can tell a lot about you - including your life expectancy. Amazingly, your walking speed is just as good an indicator of how long you'll live as your health history, smoking habits, and blood pressure combined.

It's possible to do a basic life expectancy calculation based on a person's age and gender, but there's no real way to know how accurate that estimate is for any given person without knowing more about his or her medical history. You can figure out a more detailed estimate by combining information about a person's chronic conditions, medical conditions, blood pressure, body mass index, and hospitalization history, but it turns out you can get just as good an answer with ten feet of pavement and a stopwatch.

That's the discovery made by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, who have put together nine studies that ran from 1986 to 2000 that investigated the relationship between walking speed and life expectancy in senior citizens. The results revealed a clear link between the two variables, the researchers explain:

"Predicted years of remaining life for each sex and age increased as gait speed increased, with a gait speed of about 0.8 meters [2.6 feet]/second at the median [midpoint] life expectancy at most ages for both sexes. Gait speeds of 1.0 meter [3.3 feet]/second or higher consistently demonstrated survival that was longer than expected by age and sex alone. In this older adult population the relationship of gait speed with remaining years of life was consistent across age groups, but the absolute number of expected remaining years of life was larger at younger ages."

Simply looking at a person's age, gender, and walking speed is as reliable a predictor of life expectancy as any other known method. Admittedly, estimating life expectancy is still an inexact science, but it's pretty awesome - and maybe a little disturbing - that there's such a simple way to estimate how many years you've got left. But why is walking speed such a powerful indicator? The researchers have an idea:

"Walking requires energy, movement control, and support and places demands on multiple organ systems, including the heart, lungs, circulatory, nervous, and musculoskeletal systems. Slowing gait may reflect both damaged systems and a high energy cost of walking."

Now, a person's health is obviously a complex thing, and it's not as though a person's walking speed can magically reveal everything about a person's constitution. That said, it probably wouldn't hurt to try quickening the pace every once in a while.

Top image: SVLuma via Shutterstock.com.

[JAMA]