When you’re walking and you hear a catchy song, does the music encourage you to step up the pace so that you’re moving in time to the beat? If so, that’s good! Walking speed and “gait” (pattern and manner of walking) are important for optimal aging (1;2). Whether you realize it or not, you may be training yourself for a longer, healthier and more active lifestyle by listening to music while you walk.
Walking ability is one of the many changes affected by aging. Your pace may drop and your steps become shorter and less certain (3;4). These changes can lead to decreased mobility, a decline in quality of life, and increased risk of falls and serious injury (1;2). Walking speed reveals a lot about your overall health and energy and is a good predictor of how long you will be able to stay active, mobile and to live well independently in the community (5). Studies have also shown a connection between walking speed and how long you live (6).
But don’t accept a change in walking ability as part of normal aging! You can “take steps” to avoid or minimize mobility problems and one interesting approach for improving walking speed, strength and coordination involves walking in time to a steady beat (7;8). Sounds simple enough, but will it really help?
What the research tells us
Lace up those shoes and turn on the tunes! Research shows that walking to a steady beat or music helps improve walking speed, stride length, walk rhythm and symmetry (7;8). These encouraging results are supported by other studies about the benefits of music, particularly for people who have had a stroke (8;9).
How fast should you be able to walk? Older adults should be able to manage most day to day activities – including safely crossing a two-lane street – with a walking speed of about one metre per second, or about 10 seconds from one side of the street to the other (10).
Check out this blog for more information, including usual walking speeds for men and women at different ages and tips for how you can test your own walking speed:
Worried you might be falling behind? Try picking up the pace and lengthening your stride by matching your steps to a steady tempo. You can literally “walk to the beat of your own drum,” but an iPod or similar small electronic device will be a lot less cumbersome! Choose music you like with a distinct and steady rhythm, making sure the volume still allows you to hear traffic and other noise around you. Then, go out and enjoy your walks even more knowing you are taking steps towards better health and longevity.