Mobility limitation, defined as difficulty walking 3-4 blocks outdoors or climbing a flight of stairs, affects 20-30% of older adults and threatens healthy aging and independence. Emerging evidence suggests that mobility limitation may result from a high energetic cost of walking. But, few attempts have been made to discover how to reduce the energetic cost of walking for older adults.
The Aging and Population Health Lab conducted the HealthySteps Study to test the ability of specialized exercise to reduce the energetic cost of walking in older adults. A new paper published in Innovation in Aging reports on the study’s results.
“We found that 12 weeks of timing and coordination of gait training delivered twice weekly by fitness instructors to small groups of community-dwelling older adults with mobility limitation led to a clinically meaningful 15% reduction in the energy cost of walking relative to an active control. Importantly, these reductions in energy cost of walking were sustained 12 weeks after exercise training ended,” said Kristina Collins, lead author and former MSc student in the lab.
The training focused on various combinations of stepping and walking patterns that promoted timing and coordination within the gait cycle. It was designed based on principles of motor skill acquisition. Participants in the study really liked the training – they attended 86% of exercise classes.
“Timing and coordination training also led to a clinically meaningful trend toward faster gait speed by 0.10 m/s,” added Collins. Slow gait speed is a strong predictor of poor health outcomes for older adults, so interventions that increase gait speed are desirable.
“These results are encouraging and suggest that it may be both feasible and beneficial to incorporate timing and coordination training in community-based exercise programs for older adults to make walking easier and faster,” said Dr. Dawn Mackey, the study’s principal investigator.
Funding for this project was provided by the Drummond Foundation and Simon Fraser University.
Collins KJ, Schrack JA, VanSwearingen JM, Glynn NW, Pospisil MC, Gant VE, Mackey DC. Randomized Controlled Trial of Exercise to Improve Walking Energetics in Older Adults. Innovation in Aging. 2018, XX(XX): 1–10 doi:10.1093/geroni/igy022