Walking fitness makes a significant difference in predicting the likelihood of future disability in the elderly, according to a study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH) and their collaborators found that the ability to walk 400-meters, or about a quarter mile, was an important determinant not only of whether elderly participants would be alive six years later but also how much illness and disability they would experience within that time frame.
"The ability to complete this walk was a powerful predictor of health outcomes. In fact, we found that the people who could not complete the walk were at an extremely high risk of later disability and death," said lead author, Anne B. Newman, M.D., M.P.H., professor of epidemiology at GSPH and professor of medicine in the department of medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Dr. Newman and her co-workers, collaborating with researchers at five other institutions, asked a group of almost 2,700 community-dwelling white and African-American men and women aged 70 to 79 to complete, as quickly as they could--without running--and at a consistent pace, ten 40-meter laps in a corridor. All of the participants previously had reported no difficulty walking a quarter of a mile, climbing one flight of stairs without resting or performing basic activities of daily living. Participants were excluded from attempting the walk if they had an abnormal electrocardiogram, elevated blood pressure or resting heart rate or recently had a procedure for, or symptoms of, heart disease. Those participants who qualified for the quarter-mile walk were told to stop if they experienced any signs of fatigue or persistent rapid heart rate.
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