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17-06-2012 | Physical rehabilitation | Article

UK walking guidelines ‘not up to speed’

Abstract

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MedWire News: The current assumed pedestrian walking speed of 1.2 m per second should be revised, say researchers whose findings show that the average UK resident over the age of 65 years does not walk at this pace.

Men in the study walked at a speed of 0.9 m per second and their female peers walked at 0.8 m per second on average, meaning both walk slower than the internationally recommended speed required to use pedestrian crossings, they observe.

"Insufficient crossing time among older adults may not increase the risk of pedestrian fatalities, which are uncommon at pedestrian crossings, but it is likely to deter this group from even trying to cross the road," write Laura Asher (University College London, UK) and colleagues in Age and Ageing.

Among the older population, mobility outside of the home not only has health benefits, but also maintains independence and social networks, adds the team.

During a nurse home visit, 3145 adults aged 65 years or above were asked to walk for 8 ft at their normal pace to give their "normal" walking speed. In all, 10% of men and 13% of women did not take the test due to technical problems, being unable, unwilling, or feeling unsafe.

A total of 76% of men and 85% of women had a normal walking speed of less than 1.2 m per second, and 93% of women and 84% of men had a walking impairment, which is defined as being unsafe or unable to take the 8 ft walking test, or doing it at a speed of less than 1.2 m per second.

Multivariate analysis revealed that women were 2.6 times more likely to have a walking impairment than men and that increasing age increased the likelihood of walking impairment. Specifically, by 1.09-fold in those aged 70-74 years, 1.54-fold in those aged 75-79 years, and 3.65-fold in those aged at least 80 years, compared with those aged 65-69 years.

Current smoking, living in a deprived area (measured using the Index of Multiple Deprivation 2004), fair or poor self-reported health, low grip strength (indicating loss of muscle mass), and having a limiting long-standing illness were also significantly associated with having a walking impairment.

The main strengths of the study, remark Asher et al, are that the cohort included a random sample of participants, none of whom were excluded on the basis of disability. The data are therefore "representative of the older population who may wish to use a pedestrian crossing," they say.

By Sarah Guy

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