Walking Speed a Predictor of Health Issues

posted Jul 12, 2018, 8:52 AM by Walk Strong Calgary   [ updated Jul 12, 2018, 9:22 AM ]
One of the unique features of our Walk 15® program is our "Steps to Miles" system, which uses the pace of the music to measure mileage. Even though each person in class remains within about a 30-40 ft2 area, by keeping on the beat, we can approximate the distance we've gone over time. On average, we engineer the music in a class for a 15-minute mile (hence the '15' in the 'Walk 15®' brand), which equates to a 4 mph pace. I often take my music outdoors onto the walking paths, and depending on stride length, 30 minutes of walking to the beat will put me around 2 miles from my doorstep. Walk 15® is a great way to measure walking speed; however, in our activities of daily living (ADL), we seldom walk to music. So how can we measure our walking speed as we go about our day... and does it matter?

According to a growing trend in research, gait speed may actually be a better predictor of certain health issues than traditional measures such as pulse, breathing, and blood pressure. According to Professor Dina Katabi of MIT, "Many avoidable hospitalizations are related to issues like falls, congestive heart disease, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease which have all been shown to be correlated to gait speed." Measuring changes in a person's walking speed could potentially result in early detection and prevention, especially in the elderly. 

The research is based, however, not on the speed one would walk during fitness activities; rather, the key element is how our gait (or walking) speed changes over time in day-to-day life - walking across the room to grab a snack; walking to answer the doorbell, etc. According to researchers, changes in stride length may also help experts understand conditions such as Parkinson's Disease, one of the characteristics of which is taking smaller steps. Such changes could also be an indicator of an injury (and subsequent increased risk of a fall) and perhaps even serve as an indicator over time that an individual may be ready for assisted living. 

Going Wireless
A recent paper written by scientists at MIT proposes using a wireless device called "WiGait" to measure walking speed in the home. The system analyzes wireless signals that bounce off a person's body and apparently is 95-99% accurate in measuring gait speed, 85-99% accurate in measuring stride length. The device hangs on the wall (approx. size of a small painting) and there are no belt-packs, wrist devices, or other sensory devices to carry on the body, and it can even 'see' through walls.   It also emits 100 times less radiation than a cell phone. If privacy is a concern, rest assured, there are no cameras involved - merely moving dots on a screen. Researchers hope to eventually use the system to monitor people with MS, Parkinson's and even Alzheimer's to assist physicians in tracking the progression of their conditions and adjusting medications as needed. 

Nancy Ehle is Founder & CEO of Witness 4 Fitness in Calgary, Alberta. Nancy is certified as a Walk 15® Instructor, Master Level as well as a Group Fitness Instructor (American Council on Exercise) and has studied many specialties such as Exercise and Menopause, Conducting Postural Assessments, Chronic Musculoskeletal Challenges & Exercise, and more. She is also a Health Coach, artist, author, and amateur photographer. Follow Nancy on Facebook:  www.facebook.com/walkstrongcalgary