Walking with a partner is great but might slow you down


WEST LAFAYETTE — If you walk with your spouse or partner on a regular basis, you might want to speed up. Or tell them to.

A new study by Purdue University nursing, health and kinesiology, and human development and family studies researchers shows that couples often decreased their speed when walking together. Speed further decreased if they were holding hands.

The study looked at walking times and gait speeds of 141 individuals from 72 couples. The participants ranged from age 25 — 79 in numerous settings for walking, including clear or obstacle-filled pathways, walking together, walking together holding hands and walking individually.

According to Libby Richards, associate professor of nursing, it is common for people to walk or exercise with a spouse, partner or friend, as it increases one’s likelihood to be active, especially as Americans are encouraged to meet a goal of 150 minutes of moderate activity every week. Richards had hoped to find that the slower partner increased speed to match the faster walking partner, but that was not the case.

Shirley Rietdyk, professor of health and kinesiology who specializes in biomechanics, says there are many reasons to measure walking speed, the most important being that speed is related to overall health.

“Typical gait speed is predictive of fall risk, functional ability, disability recovery and mortality,” Rietdyk says.

While walking is one of the easiest activities, people tend to walk slower as they get older and may have to find other fitness routines to stay active.

“Older adults who are more active tend to maintain their gait speed,” Rietdyk says. “In other words, slower gait speed is not an inevitable aspect of aging. Older adults who walk slower tend to have poorer health and lower functional status.”

The study focused on couples because partners in committed relationships often provide essential support to promote one another’s healthy lifestyle behaviors, including exercise.