What might be more meaningful, she notes, is tracking a person's walking speed over time, which might alert a physician to new underlying problems if the pace drops off. From there, she adds, doctors could start to investigate what body system might be slowing them down. With further investigation, walking speed might also help sort out not just how long a person is going to live but also how long they are likely to maintain independence and a high level of function.
The research on walking speeds and longevity has yet to determine if adopting a quicker pace can actually help someone live longer, or whether speed is simply an independent indicator. "Gait speed should not be considered as a primary target for interventions at this time," Cesari noted in his editorial.
Research by Studenski and her colleagues had found that people whose gait speed improved over the course of a year did have an increased rate of survival. But, she says, "we are not saying people should go out and walk faster." Because there have been no clinical trials offering fast walking as an intervention, a quick pace is not a proved panacea for living longer. Many other studies have, however, found that walking helps lower blood pressure, keep weight down and improve mood. Substantial amounts of strolling have also been linked to slower memory decline and reduced risk of some cancers.