Walking is a fun and purposeful exercise for all ages. Whether your intent is to lose weight, flatten your stomach, firm up all over, or even clear your mind — brisk walking is good for your health.
Brisk walking can help prevent heart disease, diabetes, depression, or arthritis. 
But did you know that something as simple as your walking speed could also be an early indicator of cognitive decline?
According to new research, a slower gait from year to year may be a sign of cognitive decline in elderly individuals. This could be due to shrinking in the right hippocampus, a crucial part of the brain responsible for memory and spatial processing.
Buried in the brain’s temporal lobe, the hippocampus is an oddly shaped organ resembling a seahorse. The hippocampus is responsible for learning, consolidating memories, and spatial processing and navigation — the ability to remember directions, locations, and orientations.
A slower walk as we age has always been a warning sign of increasing frailty that could lead to falls and other disabilities. Yet the medical community is now putting two and two together and is advising that a slower pace of walking or an awkward gait can be signs of early brain decline.
Research on Gait and Walking Speed
According to a study of nearly 17,000 adults over the age of 65, people who walk about 5% slower or more each year while also showing signs of slow mental processing are more likely to develop dementia. The findings were published in the journal JAMA Network Open on May 31, 2022.
Taya Collyer, a research fellow at Peninsula Clinical School at Monash University in Victoria, Australia, and the study’s corresponding author wrote that the results “highlight the importance of gait in dementia risk assessment and suggest that dual decline in gait speed and a memory measure may be the best combination to assess future dementia.” 
For seven years, the study followed a group of Americans over the age of 65 and Australians over the age of 70.
Participants in the study were asked to take cognitive tests every other year to assess their overall personal medical information — cognitive decline, memory, processing speed, and verbal fluency. They were also asked to walk 3 meters (10 feet) every other year. The two outcomes were then averaged to determine the individual’s typical gait.
Albert Einstein College of Medicine professor Dr. Joe Verghese, who was not involved in the study, writes in an editorial comment that the “risk of dementia was higher in dual decliners” than non-decliners and that they “had a higher risk of dementia than those with either gait or cognitive decline alone.” 
Dual decliners are individuals who experience a decline in both their gait and cognitive abilities.
A 2020 meta-analysis of nearly 9,000 American adults had previously discovered a dual association between walking speed and memory decline that predicts later dementia. 
Despite these findings, Verghese writes that “traditionally, gait dysfunction has not been considered an early clinical feature in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.” 
It’s important to note that not all signs of cognitive decline predict later dementia. Some older adults have more memory or thinking problems than other adults their age. This condition is called mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
Only 10% to 20% of people aged 65 or older with MCI develop dementia over the next year, according to the National Institute on Aging. “In many cases, the symptoms of MCI may stay the same or even improve,” the institute states. 
However, studies are providing the opportunity for further comprehensive assessment and possible early preventative treatments of brain disease. [2, 6, 7]
Did you know you can walk away with a weekly learning tool in less than a minute? You can sign up for Dr. Nandi’s Newsletter today. With the information provided in this resource, you can make conscious and meaningful choices that support brain health — without the need for medicine or pills.
What Causes an Abnormal Gait?
An abnormal gait can be caused by a variety of factors such as:
- Degenerative diseases such as arthritis
- Foot conditions.
- Inner-ear condition
- Badly-fitting shoes
- Neurological disorders
The likelihood of developing a gait disorder increases with age, as older people tend to have more conditions that cause an abnormal gait, as well as weaker muscles, delayed reaction time, and less muscle coordination. 
What Is Considered a Decreased Walking Pace?
Walking is a speedy, easy way to walk off pounds, lose stubborn fat, and firm and tone your body all over. A walking plan usually teaches us walking techniques and fat-burning moves that can boost our metabolism and burn calories.
Some people get frustrated that they aren’t getting the results they want, while others are thrilled to see how simple walking exercise can transform their bodies in stunning new ways!
But what if you’re worried about your own or someone else’s apparent decreased walking speed and possible links to dementia?
In general, as you get older, your walking speed slows down significantly. According to research, walking speed decreases slightly with age. This equates to a difference of 1.2 minutes slower per kilometer (.62 mile) at age 60 versus age 20. 
Men walk faster than women on average, with the speeds of the sexes being most similar when people are in their twenties. Both men and women have a fairly consistent walking speed until they reach their 60s when it begins to decline significantly.
The average person walks at a speed of 3 to 4 miles per hour. However, this can vary depending on a variety of factors such as your fitness level, overall health, and age. 
Healthy Living for Dementia Prevention One Step at a Time
At the end of our busy days, none of us want to experience brain decline, especially when there are ways to improve and protect our brain power — helping keep us sharp for years to come.
Dr. Nandi’s Newsletter can make your email learning simple. By signing up, you can find out how prioritizing food nutrients, exercising, and making a few simple lifestyle changes can help protect you and your family against cognitive decline.
Supply your body with essential vitamins and supplements from the Health Hero Pharmacy today.
- Walking for Health – Harvard Health
- Association of Dual Decline in Cognition and Gait Speed With Risk of Dementia in Older Adults
- Gait and Cognitive Declines in Dementia—Double or Nothing
- Association of Dual Decline in Memory and Gait Speed With Risk for Dementia Among Adults Older Than 60 Years: A Multicohort Individual-Level Meta-analysis
- What Is Mild Cognitive Impairment?
- Walking Speed, Cognitive Function, and Dementia Risk in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing – PMC
- Walking Pace and the Risk of Cognitive Decline and Dementia in Elderly Populations: A Meta-analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies – PMC
- Gait Disorders
- Association between Walking Speed and Age in Healthy, Free-Living Individuals Using Mobile Accelerometry—A Cross-Sectional Study | PLOS ONE
- Average Walking Speed: Pace, and Comparisons by Age and Sex