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Walking Test May Predict Elders' Death

Test Is About a Quarter of a Mile Long; Finishing It May Be Good News
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 2, 2006 -- For people in their 70s, finishing a quarter-mile walking test may bode well for their risk of dying, developing heart diseaseheart disease, or becoming disabled in the next six years.

The University of Pittsburgh's Anne Newman, MD, MPH, and colleagues report the news in The Journal of the American Medical Association. The researchers studied 2,680 people aged 70-79 who were eligible for the walking test.

"The ability to complete this walk was a powerful indicator of health outcomes," Newman says in a University of Pittsburgh news release. "In fact, we found that the people who could not complete the walk were at an extremely high risk of later disability and death.

"Individuals who remain physically active into their 70s have a big advantage in their 80s in terms of living longer and reducing their risk of cardiovascular disease and disability," Newman says. "So, we really need to focus on developing programs in the community that will help the elderly stay active and healthier longer."

Walking Test

At the study's start, all participants reported having no difficulty in walking a quarter of a mile, climbing a flight of stairs without resting, or performing basic activities of daily living. None were using canes or walkers or had recent heart problems or high blood pressurehigh blood pressure.

Newman's team asked participants to walk 400 meters (about a quarter of a mile) as quickly as possible, without running, at a steady pace. The course was 10 laps of a 40-meter hallway.

Participants warmed up for 2 minutes before the test. They could stop or quit at any point during the test. At every lap, the researchers encouraged them to keep going.

Going the Distance

More than eight in 10 participants finished the walking test. Another 13% didn't complete the test. All participants were monitored for the next five years, on average.

During the follow-up period, 351 participants died, 308 were found to have heart disease, more than 1,100 developed limited mobility, and 509 had mobility problems that were disabling.

Those who had completed the walking test were less likely to be in any of those groups. Also, participants who finished in the top quarter of the group fared better than those with the slowest times.

The results held after the researchers adjusted for factors including long-term health conditions.

The hallway test might be "a useful substitute for treadmill testing as a predictor of adverse outcomes in older adults," write Newman and colleagues. They note that some older adults can't walk at the 3-mile-per-hour pace often used in treadmill tests.

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