“Feeling younger, walking faster”: subjective age and walking speed in older adults
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Walking speed is a key vital sign in older people. Given the implications of slower gait speed, a large literature has identified health-related, behavioral, cognitive, and biological factors that moderate age-related decline in mobility. The present study aims to contribute to existing knowledge by examining whether subjective age, how old or young individuals experience themselves to be relative to their chronological age, contributes to walking speed. Participants were drawn from the 2008 and 2012 waves of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS, N = 2970) and the 2011 and 2013 waves of the National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS, N = 5423). In both the HRS and the NHATS, linear regression analysis revealed that a younger subjective age was associated with faster walking speed at baseline and with less decline over time, controlling for age, sex, education, and race. These associations were partly accounted for by depressive symptoms, disease burden, physical activity, cognition, body mass index, and smoking. Additional analysis revealed that feeling younger than one’s age was associated with a reduced risk of walking slower than the frailty-related threshold of 0.6 m/s at follow-up in the HRS. The present study provides novel and consistent evidence across two large prospective studies for an association between the subjective experience of age and walking speed of older adults. Subjective age may help identify individuals at risk for mobility limitations in old age and may be a target for interventions designed to mitigate functional decline.
KeywordsSubjective age Walking speed Mobility
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