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Walking Speed: A Vital Sign for Older Adults
By Dr. Tonya Miller, Regional Vice-President, Celtic Healthcare

There are many vital signs that can tell you how your body is performing. Physicians and other health care professionals track blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate to monitor a person's overall health. But did you know that your speed of walking can actually be an important vital sign to predict your overall health, wellbeing and ability to stay independent as you age? Walking Speed or "gait velocity" is measured by timing an individual as he or she walks an established distance. The usual distance measured is 10 meters. The time to walk the 10 meters determines an individual's walking speed.

Although walking may seem like the simplest of task, it is actually a complex symphony of many of the body's systems. In order to walk our bodies must coordinate balance, muscle contraction and relaxation, and changing the cardiovascular system to name just few. It is because of this complexity that the speed that someone is able to walk is an indicator of the ability to do such things as recover quickly from surgery.

Research has shown that the normal walking speed of an older adult ( individuals over age 65) is 1.2 to 1.4 meters per second (1.8-2.7 mph). There has been significant research which demonstrates that as walking speed reduces from the normal range an individual becomes more likely not to be able to stay at home safely and may be at increase risk for injury and other medical complications including possible increase risk of death. The good news is that there is also research supporting that improvement in walking speed is linked to reduction of medical complications and improved ability to stay independent. In one specific study those who improved their speed of walking actually had a 20% less chance of medical decline than those who had a decline in their walking speed and a 10% less chance over those who stayed the same over an eight year period.

So by just by improving the speed at which you walk you can have a positive effect on your overall health. Older adults who may already have difficulty walking in the community may benefit from the assistance of a home health physical therapist. Celtic Healthcare physical therapists work with older adults in their own homes to evaluate the individual's walking speed and overall function and safety. After a complete evaluation, including all vital signs, the Celtic Healthcare therapist develops a safe and effective program to improve walking speed, functional activities and overall health status of an individual. By partnering with a physical therapists to develop a medically appropriate program older adults can improve their walking speed- a vital component to healthy aging.

For more information on home health physical therapy and our unique Walking Speed program please contact Celtic Healthcare by calling 1.800.355.8894.

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