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Walking speed, part 1: How fast should I walk to cross the road safely? Fast facts about walking speed

The Bottom Line

  • Our walking speed changes as we age and is predictive of our life expectancy and changes that are likely to occur in other areas of functioning. 
  • Men have faster speeds than women probably because they are taller.
  • Walking at 1.14 metres/second means that you can cross the street safely in time before the light changes.

In this two-part series of blog posts on walking speed we look at what you need to know and how to improve your walking speed. In Part 1, we'll look at some of the basics and a simple test you can do to determine your walking speed. In Part 2, we discuss how to improve your walking speed.

What advice do you have about walking as I get older?

Walking speed (gait speed) or mobility is necessary for most tasks that humans undertake. Slowing of walking speed is associated with aging in all persons. Walking speed has also been associated both with how long a person will live (survival) (1;2) and with changes that occur when older persons are having difficulty or become unable to do tasks (3;4). In research studies walking ability has been assessed by tests where persons are either asked to walk at their usual speed (sometimes called self-selected walking speed) OR fast walking speed where a person is instructed to walk as fast as they can safely (5-12).

How fast do I need to walk to cross the road safely?

To undertake various activities within the community that involve walking, the average distances required to walk vary from 200-600 metres (13;14). The task that usually concerns older persons most in relation to walking speed is how quickly they need to walk in order to cross a road safely. The critical speed cited for this task is 1.14 meters/second and has been broken down in the following way:

  1. Crossing a 2 lane road (4 metres/lane) in 10 seconds (5 seconds per lane),
  2. And 3 seconds to get up and down off either curb (1.5 seconds per curb).
  3. The critical speed is 8 metres/7 seconds = 1.14meters/second.

The speed we are able to walk decreases as we age. There are several reports that indicate some normal ranges for older persons. For example, general walking speeds for community activities are 1.2-1.4 metres/sec until 80 years and 1.0-1.8 metres/second until 90 years and older (4;15-18).

Older persons who have a walking speed of less than 1metre/second have reported ceasing involvement in any regular physical activity (19). Self- selected walking speed associated with frailty has been reported as less than 0.65 metres/second if you are short (i.e. = 159cm) and 0.75m/sec if you are taller (height >159cm) (20).

How does my walking speed compare to others of my age?

Below is a Table (16) of usual walking speeds given for women and men by different age groups.

Sex Age group  Total number of persons in each study  Average self-selected walking speed (metres/second) Range within which the average value might fall (metres/second) 
 Women  40-49  142  1.39  (1.34-1.41) 
   50-59  456  1.31  (1.22-1.41) 
   60-69  5,013   1.24  (1.18-1.30)
   70-79  8,591  1.13  (1.07-1.19) 
   80-99  2,152  0.94  (0.85-1.03)
 Men  40-49  96  1.43   (1.35-1.51) 
   50-59  436   1.43   (1.38-1.49) 
   60-69  941  1.34  (1.26-1.41)
   70-79  3,671  1.26  (1.21-1.32)
   80-99  1,091  0.97  (0.83-1.10)

 

Assessing your own walking speed

You can assess your walking speed using the 10 metre walk test (5;8;10). You need a 20 metre path with 5 metres to get up to normal speed, 10 metres for measurement of your normal walking pace and 5 metres to slow down. You should measure how long it takes you to walk the 10 metre length or get someone else to time your walking speed over this distance. The figure below illustrates how to do this. Then calculate your walking speed by dividing 10 metres by the number of seconds it took you to determine your speed in metres/second.

Image showing 10 metre test

In Part 2 of this two-part blog series on walking speed, we discuss how to improve your walking speed.



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References

  1. Studenski S, Perera S, Patel K, et al. Gait speed and survival in older adults. JAMA. 2011; 305(1):50-58.
  2. Hardy SE, Perera S, Roumani YF, et al. Improvement in usual gait speed predicts better survival in older adults. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2007; 55(11):1727-1734.
  3. Abellan van KG, Rolland Y, Andrieu S, et al. Gait speed at usual pace as a predictor of adverse outcomes in community-dwelling older people an International Academy on Nutrition and Aging (IANA) Task Force. J Nutr Health Aging. 2009; 13(10):881-889.
  4. Bohannon RW. Comfortable and maximum walking speed of adults aged 20-79 years: Reference values and determinants. Age Ageing. 1997; 26(1):15-19.
  5. Jadczak AD, Makwana N, Luscombe-Marsh N, et al. Effectiveness of exercise interventions on physical function in community-dwelling frail older people: An umbrella review of systematic reviews. BI Database System Rev Implement Rep. 2018; 16(3):752-775. doi: 10.11124/JBISRIR-2017-003551. 
  6. Theou O, Stathokostas L, Roland KP, et al. The effectiveness of exercise interventions for the management of frailty: A systematic review. J Aging Res 2011; 2011:569194.  
  7. de Vries NM, van Ravensberg CD, Hobbelen JSM, et al. Effects of physical exercise therapy on mobility, physical functioning, physical activity and quality of life in community-dwelling older adults with impaired mobility, physical disability and/or multi-morbidity: A meta-analysis. Ageing Res Rev. 2012; 11(1):136-149. 
  8. de Labra C, Guimaraes-Pinheiro C, Maseda A, et al. Effects of physical exercise interventions in frail older adults: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. BMC Geriatr. 2015; 15:154. 
  9. Clegg AP, Barber SE, Young JB, et al. Do home-based exercise interventions improve outcomes for frail older people? Findings from a systematic review. Rev Clin Gerontol. 2012; 22(1):68-78. 
  10. Chin A, Paw MJM, Van Uffelen JGZ, et al. The functional effects of physical exercise training in frail older people: A systematic review. Sports Med. 2008; 38(9):781-793. 
  11. Cruz-Jentoft AJ, Landi F, Schneider SM, et al. Prevalence of and interventions for sarcopenia in ageing adults: A systematic review. Report of the International Sarcopenia Initiative (EWGSOP and IWGS). Age Ageing. 2014; 43(6):48-759. 
  12. Daniels R, van Rossum E, de Witte L, et al. Interventions to prevent disability in frail community-dwelling elderly: A systematic review. BMC Health Serv Res. 2008; 8:278. 
  13. Andrews AW, Chinworth SA, Bourassa M, et al. Update on distance and velocity requirements for community ambulation. J Geriatr Phys Ther. 2010; 33(3):128-134.
  14. Brown CJ, Bradberry C, Howze SG, et al. Defining community ambulation from the perspective of the older adult. J Geriatr Phys Ther, 2010; 33(2):56-63.
  15. Waters RL, Lunsford BR, Perry J, et al. Energy-speed relationship of walking: Standard tables. J Orthop Res. 1988; 6(2):215-222. 
  16. Bohannon RW, Williams AA. Normal walking speed: A descriptive meta-analysis. Physiotherapy. 2011; 97(3):182-189.
  17. Lusardi MM. Is walking speed a vital sign? Absolutely. Top Geriatr Rehabil. 2012; 28(2):67-76.
  18. Chui K, Hood E, Klima, D. Meaningful changes in walking speed. Top Geriatr Rehabil. 2012; 28(2):97-103.
  19. Shimada H, Suzukawa M, Tiedemann A, et al. Which neuromuscular or cognitive test is the optimal screening tool to predict falls in frail community-dwelling older people? Gerontology 2009; 55(5):532-538.
  20. Bohannon RW. Comfortable and maximum walking speed of adults aged 20-79 years: Reference values and determinants. Age Ageing. 1997; 26(1):15-19.

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (info@mcmasteroptimalaging.org).

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of these blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations such as social distancing and frequent hand washing. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with current social distancing recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.

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