As per a latest research, slow walking might be associated with a major deficit in cognitive and physical health. From a longitudinal study of more than 900 New Zealanders which started in the 1970s,it has been found that people in 40s walking with slow gait are more likely to exhibit signs of increased biological ageing along with reduced brain integrity. The findings appear in the JAMA Network Open.
Line J.H. Rasmussen, biological researcher from Duke University said that it is indeed striking to observe this people with age of 45 years, not geriatric patients normally associated with such conditions. Rasmussen and his team studied participants from Dunedin Study, a very long longitudinal health study which was started almost fifty years ago having a cohort of more than 1000 three year olds. Assessing the health of the remaining 904 participants at age of 45, researchers found that the speed of walking at mid-life offered a way of identifying ageing processes extending all the way to childhood.
Terrie E. Moffitt, psychologist and neuroscientist at Duke said that the study assessed the time from preschool life to mid-life and found that slow walk is an indication of a problem decades before the actual old age. 45 year old participants in the study had their walking speed checked on several measures of daily physical functions. Signs of accelerated ageing were also assessed which included 19 different biomarkers from blood pressure to dental health along with brain scans by MRI. Past data were also considered such as neurocognitive abilities of participants of their childhood.
The results revealed that reduced walking speed in mid-40s is associated with deteriorated physical functioning and accelerated ageing. This is indicated by increased deterioration of several organ systems along with a different visual analysis of the ages of participants which were conducted by a panel. Authors also explain in the paper that gait speed was also related to neurocognitive functioning in childhood besides concurrent neurocognitive functioning. Brain scans were not conducted when the study started, however on the basis of current tests, it was shown that slow walkers on average had decreased brain volume and cortical thickness.
There are certain limitations in this study which includes lack of gait speed measurements in earlier tests with the cohort and lack of previous brain imaging data. However the scientists say that there are many things to be understood in the examination of the link between neurocognitive functioning at childhood and gait speed at midlife in the future research.
Stephanie Studenski, geriatric medicine researcher at the University of Pittsburgh said that bad results of cognitive testing in children of age three years should not be always connected to lifelong problems. Rather contributing factors to this poor performance and resultant coping up strategies should be considered.
From this decades old study, we can also identify the positive social influence factors that boost biological longevity along with neurocognitive functioning. The human brain is quite dynamic and it is reorganising itself constantly according to experience and exposure.
Hence the brain health which is reflected in the brain structure, gait speed and cognition might not be the first cause but consequence of insults and opportunities on a lifelong basis.