Identifying the slowpokes might help identify at-risk seniors too, so they can be targeted for interventions to help improve their health. Clinicians could even monitor speed over time as a safe and inexpensive way to red-flag slowdowns associated with developing health problems.
One caveat Studenski makes is that longevity charts are not good predictors for natural slow walkers; some healthy people simply prefer to move at a more leisurely pace.
There's little evidence to show that revving things up means living longer either, though in one previous study Studenski's team did show that people who improved walking speed over a one-year period had a better chance of survival over the following eight years compared to people who didn't speed up. And even though Studenski says there's more proof needed before it can be said that cultivating a livelier step translates to additional years, she still thinks that working on physical fitness as you age is a good idea.
"Working with your doctor, a physical therapist or some other healthcare professional to help maintain your health and your walking speed certainly can't hurt and can only help in most cases," she said.
Gerjouy jokingly attributes his good health and quick stride to a daily ration of Jell-O. Jiggly desserts aside, there are some real steps you can take to ensure you maintain mobility into your golden years. John R. Martinez a licensed physical therapist and president of Therapy Experts in New York City, offers the following tips for optimal walking.
Stay Flexible. Maintaining your flexibility, particularly in your hips, sustains your ability to move. You can stretch your hips daily by leaning forward towards your kitchen counter (usually a perfect height for this stretch) with your legs straddled a stride's distance apart. Hold for 30 seconds as you feel the stretch spread up the back of your leg into your hip. Repeat to other side.
Improve Balance. Balance is a bigger component of walking than most people realize; it's what keeps you from stumbling or tripping over your feet. For a simple daily challenge, stand on one leg while you brush your teeth. Start by hanging onto the sink with your extra hand, progress to no hands, and then to doing it with your eyes closed.
Build Endurance and Strength. As you rack up birthdays, endurance and power can diminish unless you focus on maintaining them. One way to keep up stamina is to do the very activity you are trying to preserve: Walking. This is also likely to strengthen the walking muscles too. You can mix this with lower impact endurance activities like riding a stationary bike or water exercise.
Care for Your Feet. Taking good care of your feet will ensure they remain in walk-worthy condition. Wear comfortable shoes, maintain good hygiene and visit a podiatrist periodically for a foot checkup. One easy daily foot strengthening exercise involves placing a small towel under your bare foot and scrunching it up and straightening it out with your toes. Repeat three to five times with each foot.
Lose Weight. Carrying excess weight strains your body, especially your knees, which can slow you down and prevent you from being more active. Watch your diet and do what you can to burn calories. Even a 5 percent reduction in weight can make a tremendous difference in your mobility.