(PITTSBURGH, Pa.) -- Seniors who can still walk at a relatively speedy pace have a good chance of living to an even riper old age, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
When researchers at the University of Pittsburgh pooled the data from nine large studies that involved more than 34,000 seniors, they were able to correlate walking speed in people 65 or older with expected longevity.
At the beginning of each study, subjects were timed at their normal, comfortable walking pace for about 13 feet and periodically retested for up to 21 years. Anyone who could ambulate, even if they used a cane or walker, was included.
The faster an older person can walk, the longer they can expect to live and, according to the researchers, walking with some pep in your step appears to be a better predictor of who survives than simply looking at someone's age and sex.
"It's a real part of the human experience to see that when someone slows down with age, they may not be doing as well as they once were," said lead researcher Dr. Stephanie Studenski. "One of the major goals of this study was to quantify this experience for practical and clinical purposes."
Studenski notes that the act of placing one foot in front of the other requires the cooperation of many body systems including the heart, lungs, blood, bones, muscles, joints, nerves and brain -- and all of these systems synchronize, coordinate and integrate in a way that allows each individual to choose their own ideal walking speed, a speed that remains remarkably constant throughout life unless it's affected by medical issues.
For this reason, scientists consider how quickly a person walks, when correlated with age and sex, a reflection of their underlying health.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio