As people age into their 70's, their ability to walk one quarter of a mile becomes an important predictor of their overall health and may even indicate how long they might live.
Of nearly 3,000 healthy older adults, those who were able to complete a quarter-mile extended walking test were three times as likely to live longer and were less likely to have cardiovascular disease and physical infirmity as they aged, said Dr. Marco Pahor, Director of University of Florida's Institute of Aging.
Decreasing mobility, along with lack of muscle strength and a decline in aerobic ability, are common aspects of aging that can diminish quality of life, he said. Understanding the mechanisms of how people lose mobility can keep people functioning independently longer, he added.
"This shows the predictive value of a simple performance task," Dr. Pahor said. "This will help us develop a testable standard for fitness, which is the first step toward creating a strategy for maintaining independence in older people."
Existing means of assessing aerobic fitness, such as an exercise treadmill test, are more arduous than walking and are difficult to apply to elderly patients because old age causes a decline in physical abilities. The study supports the use of the extended walking test as a baseline for human fitness for this population.
The men and women in the study ranged in age from 70 to 79 years of age and were chosen from a random sample of white and black Medicare recipients from Pittsburgh and Memphis, Tennessee. Their performance on the walking test was recorded every six months, and they were periodically evaluated for an average of 4.9 years.
Older adults who reported no difficulty walking had a wide range of performance on the test. …