Some people walk slow, and some people zip along. But if you think that’s just a matter of personal preference, think again. A new study spanning 40 years from Duke University and published in Jama Network found that as it turns out, you’re pretty much born a fast or slow walker – evidence is present in neurocognitive testing at 3 years old as to who will become a slow walker. In addition, the walking speed of 45-year-olds can be used as an indication of the state of their cognitive and physical aging – and it doesn’t look good for the slower walkers.
The findings, which come from a longitudinal study of just over 900 New Zealanders, indicate that people age 45 who walk slowly are more likely to show accelerated physical aging and decreased cognitive function. In particular, their lungs, teeth, and immune system were in poorer shape than fast walkers.
Walk this way
“The thing that’s really striking is that this is in 45-year-old people, not the geriatric patients who are usually assessed with such measures,” said lead researcher Line J.H. Rasmussen, a post-doctoral researcher in the Duke University department of psychology and neuroscience, in a release.
As for the brains of slower walkers, MRI exams of participants during their last assessment showed that their brains appeared a bit older than those of fast walkers. This is evidenced by the fact that they 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.
“Doctors know that slow walkers in their seventies and eighties tend to die sooner than fast walkers their same age,” said senior author Terrie E. Moffitt, the Nannerl O. Keohane University Professor of Psychology at Duke University, and Professor of Social Development at King’s College London. “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.”
This data came from the most recent assessment of the participants in what is called the Dunedin Study, a population-based study of people born between 1972 – 73 in New Zealand. The research participants in the current study have been tested, poked, prodded, and measured over their entire lives.
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