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The 6th Vital Sign: Walking Speed


Did you know your walking speed can predict your future health status?

We’ve all had our vitals taken while at a doctor’s appointment. 5 vital signs are measured at a typical appointment, including: body weight, body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate. These vital signs are used as a measure of our health and need for medical intervention. But have you ever heard of using the speed at which you walk to determine your health status?

While out in your community, have you ever taken note of the speed at which the people around you are walking? We’ve all seen the power walkers swiftly making their way around the track and the elderly person shuffling along with their walker. Have you ever thought about what walking speed is the safest for you? As it turns out, walking speed can be a bigger predictor of your overall health than you previously thought.

Your physical therapist may measure your walking speed as a measure that correlates with your functional ability and balance confidence. A person’s walking speed can predict the likelihood of hospitalization, discharge location if hospitalized and mortality. Walking speed can predict the risk of falls and is linked to changes in quality of life. Simply put, how fast you walk can be an excellent predictor of your fall risk and is an important component of a physical therapy evaluation.

What influences your walking speed? Walking is a complex activity that is influenced by a number of variables including:

Health status

Motor control

Muscle performance

Musculoskeletal condition

  • Sensory function

  • Endurance

  • Daily activity level

  • Cognitive status

  • Motivation and mental health

  • Characteristics of the environment in which one walks

How fast is a normal walking speed? A ‘normal’ walking speed will vary depending on the environment you are in. The speed at which you walk around the house may differ from the speed required to safely cross a busy intersection. The safe walking speed for someone who is house-bound can be a low as 0.4 mph, but you should be able to walk as fast as 3.1 mph to safely cross the street. Walking at least 2.0 mph means you are less likely to be hospitalized and less likely to fall. You may need intervention to reduce the risk of falls if you walk less than 2.0 mph as your comfortable walking speed.

How do I determine my walking speed? If you are concerned about the speed at which you walk, find yourself short of breath or struggling to safely cross the street, have difficulty leaving your home alone, or have a history of falling, you may benefit from a physical therapy evaluation to determine your risk of falls. Here at Restore PT / FYZICAL Ashburn, balance and fall prevention is our main priority. Schedule an appointment with us to discuss your concerns, help to improve your balance, reduce your risk of falls and get back to living your best life!

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