The speed at which you choose to walk is actually very important. Walking speed is a common measure taken by physical therapists to help determine where someone is at with their functional mobility, meaning how well they can move around, as well as their overall health. Walking speed has been studied and numerous research papers have been written in terms of how relevant and predictive this information can be. This is also a great value to test and work on, then re-test and be able to show true changes that a person can make in their walking speed that will improve their quality of life.

When we measure walking speed, there is a certain amount of distance that is measured out. Usually, this is between five and ten meters in length. The walking speed can be self-selected by the person being tested, or another possible way to test it is to ask the person to walk as fast as they can (while still staying safe and balanced). If you are testing this at home, be sure you are safe and you can use an assistive device as needed. The measurement taken is in meters per second.

Walking speed can help to guide someone in their particular areas for improvement, as well as guide someone in their risk of adverse events while walking and if they are someone who may need interventions in order to help them stay safe. When we walk there are a lot of systems working together, so it is actually a very good test. Walking speed evaluates many different structures and functions in the body, for example: postural control, lower body strength, aerobic capacity, and vision. All of these systems can be tested individually as well to determine a plan of action for improvement.

There are associated outcomes based on research that can be predicted based on walking speed. For example, if someone is able to walk at .8 meters/second or faster then the research states that they are safe to be a “community ambulator.” If they are able to walk at 1.3 meters/second or faster then they are considered extremely fit and safe to cross streets. If they are between .7 and 1.0 meters/second then they are more likely to have cognitive decline in the next five years. There are many more associated outcomes that your physical therapist can educate you on, and this can be very helpful information for walkers as well as family members of the walker being assessed.

If you have not gotten your walking speed tested, this would be a great time to do so. This assessment can guide you in knowing where you are at right now (baseline) and what to potentially work on in order to stay safe, healthy and mobile. This can also give family members guidance on where their family member is at with their health in order to assess the need for more care or safety of the person being assessed. Your physical therapist will test this measure along with other functions and come up with a proper treatment plan for you so that you can be on your way to looking and feeling great with optimal health!