Forget memory or learning tests, a simpler indicator of aging brains and bodies is walking speed.

A long-term study by Duke University considered 904 people born during a single year in Dunedin, New Zealand. The subjects were assessed their entire lives, the most recent being between April 2017 and April 2019 at age 45. It was found that slow walkers age faster, and house poorer lungs, teeth, and immunity than fast walkers.

"The thing that's really striking is that this is in 45-year-old people, not the geriatric patients who are usually assessed with such measures," said lead researcher Line J.H. Rasmussen, a post-doctoral researcher in the Duke University department of psychology & neuroscience.

What was interesting is that the neurocognitive test scores of IQ, language comprehension, frustration tolerance, motor skills and emotional control that these people took as 3-year-olds pinpointed to who would grow up to be slower walkers at 45.

"Doctors know that slow walkers in their seventies and eighties tend to die sooner than fast walkers their same age," said senior author Terrie E. Moffitt, the Nannerl O. Keohane University Professor of Psychology at Duke University, and Professor of Social Development at King's College London. "But this study covered the period from the preschool years to midlife, and found that a slow walk is a problem sign decades before old age."

The MRIs conducted in the most recent assessment revealed that slower walkers had lower total brain volume, lower mean cortical thickness, less brain surface area and more small lesions in the brain. These are things one would associate with an older brain.

On top of that, photos of the subjects were put before a panel of eight screeners. From this, the slower walkers were singled out to have “older faces”.

Walking speed might have long been used as an indicator of health and aging in elderly patients, but what is special here is the relative youth of these study subjects and how walking speed correlates with the data collected through their lives.

Though disparities in the health and cognition of some subjects can be explained by certain lifestyle choices they made, the study is able to indicate potential slow walkers at an early age.

Nordic Walking
Breast cancer patients may benefit from Nordic walking. Pixabay/bluelightpictures