The association between light intensity physical activity with gait speed in older adults (≥ 50 years). A longitudinal analysis using the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA)

  • Ilona I. McMullanEmail author
  • Brendan P. Bunting
  • Suzanne M. McDonough
  • Mark A. Tully
  • Karen Casson
Original Article



Fall prevention is an important health consideration for older adults. The benefits of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity (MVPA) for fall prevention are well established. Few studies have explored the association between low intensity physical activity (LPA) and fall risk in older adults over time.


Six waves of data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) were analysed. The measures of physical activity (PA) intensity were developed using latent class analysis (LCA). Then, the association between PA intensity and gait speed was analysed using a latent growth model (LGM).


Latent class analysis identified three classes of PA—inactive, low intensity, and moderate-vigorous intensity PA. LGM analysis showed that MVPA (Est 1.12, SE 0.05) was associated with a faster gait speed and slower rate of decline over time. LPA (Est 0.96; SE 0.12) was more beneficial than being inactive. Age was found to influence gait speed where MVPA was associated with better gait speed in adults aged ≤ 70 years, and LPA was associated with better gait speed for adults aged ≥ 70 years.


Moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity maybe more beneficial for older adults and current policy supports this. However, LPA is associated with better gait speed in older adults aged ≥ 70 years and also maybe more achievable for older adults.


Therefore, future fall prevention interventions should also include recommendations for LPA for old-older adults (≥ 70 years).


Low intensity Longitudinal analysis Physical activity Balance 



This research was supported by the Department of Education and Learning, Northern Ireland awarded to Ilona I. McMullan.

Compliance to ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

London Multi-Centre Research Ethics Committee granted ethical approval for the ELSA study. Ethical approval for analysis of the ELSA data was provided by Ulster University Filter Committee.

Statement of human and animal rights

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed consent

ELSA participants provided written informed consent.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Nursing and Health Research, School of NursingUlster UniversityNewtownabbeyUK
  2. 2.School of PhysiotherapyRoyal College of Surgeons DublinDublinIreland
  3. 3.School of PhysiotherapyUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand

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