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.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Bootsma-van der Wiel A, Gussekloo J, De Craen AJ, Van Exel E, Bloem BR, Westendorp RG (2002) Common chronic diseases and general impairments as determinants of walking disability in the oldest-old population. J Am Geriatr Soc 50:1405–1410. doi:10.1046/j.1532-5415.2002.50363.x
Chalabaev A, Emile M, Corrion K, Stephan Y, Clément-Guillotin C, Pradier C, d'Arripe-Longueville F (2013) Development and validation of the aging stereotypes and exercise scale. J Aging Physical Act 21:319–334
Caudroit J, Stephan Y, Chalabaev A, Le Scanff C (2012) Subjective age and social cognitive determinants of physical activity among active older adults. J Aging Phys Act 20:484–496
Cesari M, Kritchevsky SB, Newman AB, Simonsick EM, Harris TB, Penninx BW, Brach JS, Tylavsky FA, Satterfield S, Bauer DC, Rubin SM, Visser M, Pahor M (2009) Added value of physical performance measures in predicting adverse health-related events: results from the health, aging and body composition study. J Am Geriatr Soc 57:251–259. doi:10.1111/j.1532-5415.2008.02126.x
Crimmins E, Faul J, Kim JK, Guyer H, Langa K, Ofstedal MB, Sonnega A, Wallace R, Weir D (2013) Documentation of biomarkers in the 2006 and 2008 health and retirement study. Survey Research Center, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Demakakos P, Gjonca E, Nazroo J (2007) Age identity, age perceptions, and health : evidence from the English longitudinal study of ageing. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1114:279–287. doi:10.1196/annals.1396.021
Eibach RP, Mock SE, Courtney EA (2010) Having a “senior moment”: induced aging phenomenology, subjective age, and susceptibility to ageist stereotypes. J Exp Soc Psychol 46:643–649. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2010.03.002
Elbaz A, Sabia S, Brunner E, Shipley M, Marmot M, Kivimaki M, Singh-Manoux A (2013) Association of walking speed in late midlife with mortality: results from the Whitehall II cohort study. Age (Dordr) 35:943–952. doi:10.1007/s11357-012-9387-9
Forrest KY, Zmuda JM, Cauley JA (2006) Correlates of decline in lower extremity performance in older women: a 10-year follow-up study. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 61:1194–1200
Gale CR, Allerhand M, Sayer AA, Cooper C, Deary IJ (2014) The dynamic relationship between cognitive function and walking speed: the English longitudinal study of aging. Age (Dordr) 36:9682–9693. doi:10.1007/s11357-014-9682-8
Gray SL, Anderson ML, Hubbard RA, LaCroix A, Crane PK, McCormick W, Bowen JD, McCurry SM, Larson EB (2013) Frailty and incident dementia. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 68:1083–1090. doi:10.1093/gerona/glt013
Haight TJ, van der Laan MJ, Manini T, Tager IB (2013) Direct effects of leisure-time physical activity on walking speed. J Nutr Health Aging 17:666–673. doi:0.1007/s12603-013-0024-9
Hardy SE, Perera S, Roumani YF, Chandler JM, Studenski SA (2007) Improvement in usual gait speed predicts better survival in older adults. J Am Geriatr Soc 55:1727–1734. doi:10.1111/j.1532-5415.2007.01413.x
Hausdorff JM, Levy BR, Wei JY (1999) The power of ageism on physical function of older persons: reversibility of age-related gait changes. J Am Geriatr Soc 47:1346–1349
Infurna FJ, Gerstorf D (2013) Linking perceived control, physical activity, and biological health to memory change. Psychol Aging 28:386–401. doi:10.1037/a0033327
Infurna FJ, Gerstorf D (2014) Perceived control relates to better functional health and lower cardio-metabolic risk: the mediating role of physical activity. Health Psychol 33:85–94. doi:10.1037/a0030208
Kasper JD, Freedman VA (2014) Findings from the 1st round of the national health and aging trends study (NHATS): introduction to a special issue. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 69:S1–S7. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbu125
Kasper JD, Freedman, VA, Niefeld M (2012) Construction of performance based summary measures of physical capacity in the National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS). NHATS technical paper #4. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health.
Keyes CLM, Westerhof GJ (2012) Chronological and subjective age differences in flourishing mental health and major depressive episode. Aging Ment Health 16:67–74. doi:10.1080/13607863.2011.596811
Ko SU, Stenholm S, Ferrucci L (2010) Characteristic gait patterns in older adults with obesity-results from the Baltimore longitudinal study of aging. J Biomech 43:1104–1110. doi:10.1016/j.jbiomech.2009.12.004
Kotter-Grühn D, Kleinspehn-Ammerlahn A, Gerstorf D, Smith J (2009) Self-perceptions of aging predict mortality and change with approaching death: 16-year longitudinal results from the berlin aging study. Psychol Aging 24:654–667. doi:10.1037/a0016510
Kroenke K, Spitzer RL, Williams JB (2003) The patient health questionnaire-2: validity of a two-item depression screener. Med Care 41:1284–1292
Kuo HK, Bean JF, Yen CJ, Leveille SG (2006) Linking C-reactive protein to late-life disability in the national health and nutrition examination survey (NHANES) 1999–2002. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 61:380–387
Levy BR (2009) Stereotype embodiment: a psychosocial approach to aging. Curr Dir Psychol Sci 18:332–336. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8721.2009.01662.x
Löckenhoff CE, De Fruyt F, Terracciano A, et al (2009) Perceptions of aging across 26 cultures and their culture-level associates. Psychol Aging 24:941–954. doi:10.1037/a0016901
Ofstedal MB, Fisher GG, Herzog AR (2005) Documentation of cognitive functioning measures in the health and retirement study. Survey Research Center, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Peel NM, Kuys SS, Klein K (2013) Gait speed as a measure in geriatric assessment in clinical settings: a systematic review. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 68:39–46. doi:10.1093/gerona/gls174
Quach L, Galica AM, Jones RN, Procter-Gray E, Manor B, Hannan MT, Lipsitz LA (2011) The non-linear relationship between gait speed and falls: the MOBILIZE Boston study. J Am Geriatr Soc 59:1069–1073. doi:10.1111/j.1532-5415.2011.03408.x
Rosso AL, Sanders JL, Arnold AM, Boudreau RM, Hirsch CH, Carlson MC, Rosano C, Kritchevsky SB, Newman AB (2015) Multisystem physiologic impairments and changes in gait speed of older adults. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 70:317–322. doi:10.1093/gerona/glu176
Rothman MD, Leo-Summers L, Gill TM (2008) Prognostic significance of potential frailty criteria. J Am Geriatr Soc 56:2211–2116. doi:10.1111/j.1532-5415.2008.02008.x
Sanders JB, Bremmer MA, Deeg DJ, Beekman AT (2012) Do depressive symptoms and gait speed impairment predict each other’s incidence? A 16-year prospective study in the community. J Am Geriatr Soc 60:1673–1680. doi:10.1111/j.1532-5415.2012.04114.x
Shulman KI, Gold DP, Cohen CA, Zucchero CA (1993) Clock drawing and dementia in the community: a longitudinal study. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry 8:487–496. doi:10.1002/gps.930080606
Stephan Y, Caudroit J, Jaconelli A, Terracciano A (2014) Subjective age and cognitive functioning: a 10-year prospective study. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry 22:1180–1187. doi:10.1016/j.jagp.2013.03.007
Stephan Y, Chalabaev A, Kotter-Grühn D, Jaconelli A (2013) “Feeling younger, being stronger”: an experimental study of subjective age and physical functioning among older adults. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 68:1–7. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbs037
Stephan Y, Sutin AR, Terracciano A (2015a) Younger subjective age is associated with lower C-reactive protein among older adults. Brain Behav Immun 43:33–36. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2014.07.019
Stephan Y, Sutin AR, Terracciano A (2015b) How old do you feel? The role of age discrimination and biological aging in subjective age. Plos One 10: e0119293. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0119293.
Stephan Y, Sutin AR, Terracciano A (2015c) Subjective age and personality development: a 10-year study. J Pers 83:142–154. doi:10.1111/jopy.12090
Studenski S, Perera S, Patel K, Rosano C, Faulkner K, Inzitari M, Brach J, Chandler J, Cawthon P, Connor EB, Nevitt M, Visser M, Kritchevsky S, Badinelli S, Harris T, Newman AB, Cauley J, Ferrucci L, Guralnik J (2011) Gait speed and survival in older adults. JAMA 305:50–58. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.1923
Studenski S, Perera S, Wallace D, Chandler JM, Duncan PW, Rooney E, Fox M, Guralnik JM (2003) Physical performance measures in the clinical setting. J Am Geriatr Soc 51:314–322. doi:10.1046/j.1532-5415.2003.51104.x
Verghese J, Holtzer R, Lipton RB, Wang C (2009) Quantitative gait markers and incident fall risk in older adults. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 64:896–901. doi:10.1093/gerona/glp033
Verghese J, Lipton RB, Hall CB, Kuslansky G, Katz MJ, Buschke H (2002) Abnormality of gait as a predictor of non-Alzheimer’s dementia. N Engl J Med 347:1761–1768. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa020441
Verghese J, Wang C, Lipton RB, Holtzer R, Xue X (2007) Quantitative gait dysfunction and risk of cognitive decline and dementia. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 78:929–935. doi:10.1136/jnnp.2006.106914
Wallace R, Herzog AR, Ofstedal MB, Steffick D, Fonda S, Langa K (2000) Documentation of affective functioning measures in the health and retirement study. Survey Research Center, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Weiss D, Lang FR (2012) “They” are old but “I” feel younger: age-group dissociation as a self-protective strategy in old age. Psychol Aging 27:153–163. doi:10.1037/a0024887
White DK, Neogi T, Nevitt MC, Peloquin CE, Zhu Y, Boudreau RM, Cauley JA, Ferrucci L, Harris TB, Satterfield SM, Simonsick EM, Strotmeyer ES, Zhang Y (2013) Trajectories of gait speed predict mortality in well-functioning older adults: the health, aging and body composition study. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 68:456–464. doi:10.1093/gerona/gls197
About this article
Cite this article
Stephan, Y., Sutin, A.R. & Terracciano, A. “Feeling younger, walking faster”: subjective age and walking speed in older adults. AGE 37, 86 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11357-015-9830-9
- Subjective age
- Walking speed