By Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Walk fast, live long. That’s what a local researcher has found.

“Any of us who have a beloved parent, grandparent, uncle or aunt, can think of people who we thought they were doing really good, that they were doing great, and it’s because they were moving around well, they had a spring in their step,” says lead author Dr. Stephanie Studenski, a geriatrician at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Walking requires timing, power and coordination of the brain, heart, joints, muscles and lungs. How fast you walk can be an important reflection of health.

She reviewed nine studies over 14 years of 34,000 people over 65. Those who walked faster lived longer.

“This work was to try to translate that research knowledge into something that was useful to people and to the health care system,” she explains.

Average speed for the study subjects was 2 miles an hour. Those who walked slower than 1.36 miles an hour had an increased risk of dying. Those who walked faster than 2.25 miles an hour had a longer than expected survival than would be predicted by age or gender.

No matter how you sliced the data, the relationship was there.

“It was there for men and women, it was there no matter whether you were 60, 70, 80, or 90, whether you had heart disease or not, arthritis, diabetes, whether you’d been in the hospital, so the effect is very, very strong and persistent,” Dr. Studenski continues.

But this type of study doesn’t show cause and effect. In other words, a longer life doesn’t come just from walking faster.

“People have a self-selected preferred walking speed that is best for them based on the function of many of their body systems. So your body tells you how it wants you to walk. And perhaps what we could say is that walking quickly is a marker that your body systems are many of them doing well,” Dr. Studenski says.

Her test is easy to do — subjects are timed as they walk 14 feet — something simple to set up in a doctor’s office, at home, or at a health screening. Her study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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