Walking Speed - Is It a New Vital Sign?

Learn about walking speed and what it means for your mobility and overall health.



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Lesson Outline

Like your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and rate of breathing, walking speed may be an important new vital sign.

By taking this interactive lesson, you'll learn the answers to the following questions:

  • What is walking speed and why is it important?
  • How does walking speed change with age?
  • How is it measured?
  • What can be done to improve it?

Meet Dinesh and see what changes he makes to improve his walking speed and mobility.

(Estimated time to complete - 15 minutes)

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Lesson Resources

10-Metre Walk Test Instructions



Standing Leg Exercises For Strength and Flexibility



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What is walking speed?

Walking speed, or gait speed, is the usual pace we walk when performing day-to-day activities in our community.

Walking speed naturally declines as we age for everyone. However, slow walking speed is a consistent risk factor for disability, cognitive impairment, institutionalization, falls and death.

Walking speed can be measured using the 10-Metre Walk Test. To take the test, you'll need a 20-metre path to give you 5 metres to get up to normal speed (or usual pace), 10 metres for the measurement of your normal walking pace, and another 5 metres to slow down (as shown in the figure below). Measure the time it takes to walk the 10-metre length. Divide 10 metres by the number of seconds it took you to determine your walking speed in metres/second. Use the table of average walking speeds to see how your result compares for your age and sex. Download these instructions and the table from the Resources section above.



What is mobility and why is it important?

Mobility can be defined as 'our ability to move freely and easily'.

As we age, the loss of mobility can result in a cascade of negative effects including lower physical activity, obesity, and a reduction in strength and balance; and may contribute to chronic diseases such as diabetes. Mobility is one of the key factors related to being able to age in your own home and to avoid falls that can lead to serious complications.

A loss of mobility can also result in social isolation, putting us at risk of mental health issues such as depression and cognitive decline.

Grandfather and boy

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DISCLAIMER: Many of our Blog Posts and e-learning lessons were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content identifies 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 in our Blog Posts and e-learning lessons may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with the current social distancing recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.


Anthony Levinson

Anthony J. Levinson, MD, MSc, FRCPC

Neuropsychiatrist, Professor; Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University

Julie Richardson

Julie Richardson, PhD

Professor; Assistant Dean, Rehabilitation Science Program, School of Rehabilitation, McMaster University

Anthony Levinson

Richard Sztramko, MD, FRCPC

Geriatrician, Assistant Professor; Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University

About this Project

The content of this resource was adapted from the McMaster Optimal Aging Blog Posts 'Walking Speed, part 1: How fast should I walk to cross the road safely? Fast facts about walking speed' and 'Walking Speed, Part 2: What can you do to improve walking speed'. A literature search was performed to assess for new research evidence on the subject. The content of the e-learning lesson was reviewed and assessed for accuracy by our team of experts in rehabilitation science and geriatrics. There are no conflicts of interest. A panel of end-users reviewed the content and provided feedback on their user experience. 

If you have questions or comments related to this resource please contact us at info@mcmasteroptimalaging.org.


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