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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.

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 (5;6). 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;7-10).

Older persons who have a walking speed of less than 1metre/second have reported ceasing involvement in any regular physical activity (11). 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) (12).

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

Below is a Table (8) of usual walking speeds given for women and men by different age groups.

Gender 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  5013   1.24  (1.18-1.30)
   70-79  8591  1.13  (1.07-1.19) 
   80-99  2152  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  3671  1.26  (1.21-1.32)
   80-99  1091  0.97  (0.83-1.10)

 

Assessing your own walking speed

You can assess your walking speed using the 10 metre walk test. 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.

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, Rosano C, Faulkner K, Inzitari M, et al. Gait speed and survival in older adults. JAMA 2011 Jan 5;305(1):50-8.
  2. Hardy SE, Perera S, Roumani YF, Chandler JM, Studenski SA. Improvement in usual gait speed predicts better survival in older adults. J Am Geriatr Soc 2007 Nov;55(11):1727-34.
  3. Abellan van KG, Rolland Y, Andrieu S, Bauer J, Beauchet O, Bonnefoy M, 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 Dec;13(10):881-9.
  4. Bohannon RW. Comfortable and maximum walking speed of adults aged 20-79 years: reference values and determinants. Age Ageing 1997 Jan;26(1):15-9.
  5. Andrews AW, Chinworth SA, Bourassa M, Garvin M, Benton D, Tanner S. Update on distance and velocity requirements for community ambulation. J Geriatr Phys Ther 2010 Jul;33(3):128-34.
  6. Brown CJ, Bradberry C, Howze SG, Hickman L, Ray H, Peel C. Defining community ambulation from the perspective of the older adult. J Geriatr Phys Ther 2010 Apr;33(2):56-63.
  7. Waters RL, Lunsford BR, Perry J, Byrd R. Energy-speed relationship of walking: standard tables. J Orthop Res 1988;6(2):215-22.
  8. Bohannon RW, Williams AA. Normal walking speed: a descriptive meta-analysis. Physiotherapy 2011 Sep;97(3):182-9.
  9. Lusardi MM. Is walking speed a vital sign? Absolutely. Topics In Geriatric Rehabilitation 2012;28(2):67-76.
  10. Chui K hEKD. Meaningful changes in walking speed. Topics In Geriatric Rehabilitation 2012;28(2):97-103.
  11. Shimada H, Suzukawa M, Tiedemann A, Kobayashi K, Yoshida H, Suzuki T. Which neuromuscular or cognitive test is the optimal screening tool to predict falls in frail community-dwelling older people? Gerontology 2009;55(5):532-8.
  12. Bohannon RW. Comfortable and maximum walking speed of adults aged 20-79 years: reference values and determinants. Age Ageing 1997 Jan;26(1):15-9.

DISCLAIMER: The blogs are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own healthcare professionals.

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