Older adults who walk slowly are three times more likely to die of heart disease than those who walk at a faster pace, a new study reports. Although the reasons for this link aren’t entirely clear, the researchers suggest doctors regularly test older patients’ walking speed for an early indication of heart and circulation problems.
The study included 3,208 healthy people ages 65 to 85. At the start of the study, each person’s walking speed was recorded as they walked 6 metres. The researchers then followed up with participants every couple of years to check on their health. After five years, 209 people had died, including 99 from cancer, 59 from heart disease, and 51 from other causes such as infections and respiratory failure.
The slowest walkers were four times more likely to have died during the study than those who walked more quickly. When researchers looked at causes of death, they found that slow walkers were three times more likely to have died of heart disease than their peers. Interestingly, they didn’t find a link between slow walking and other causes of death, including cancers.
The researchers made sure that no one in the study had a condition that could have substantially affected how fast they walked, such as Parkinson’s disease or dementia. And to further test their findings, they factored in other things that can influence walking speed or risk of heart disease, such as age, weight, blood pressure, smoking history, and level of physical activity. Even with these adjustments, they found that people who walked slowly still had a notably higher risk of dying from heart disease.
The researchers can’t fully explain these findings, but they do point to research suggesting that a person’s movement and motor skills might be affected by thickening of the arteries, which can also cause heart disease.