The way people walk says a lot about how healthy they are

Gait characteristics are sometimes regarded as the sixth vital sign in humans. They serve as a valuable indicator of a person’s health, particularly in older adults – so why not measure them?


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A study by the EPFL scientists suggested that the way we walk tells a lot about your health. It can estimate how many years we have left to live.

Several studies that include thousands of patients has proven this finding true and also create a basis of an ambitious European project called MOBILISE-D. The project consortium consists of 34 partners from the academic, pharmaceutical and industrial fields, including EPFL, that are working on a device that can measure people’s gait during their everyday activities.

The device is being intended for daily use and should be extremely simple, with just a single sensor. It must most likely tell whether each step is deliberate and furthermore to recognize phases of walking, i.e., times when a person stops, slows down or accelerates, and changes direction or turns around. The system should likewise have the capacity to capture data, for example, the number, length, and height of each step, just as walk gait consistency and any limping.

As far as exactness, the system’s calculations must most likely capture changes in speed of as little as five centimeters for every second, as this has officially ended up being significant for health. To meet these technical necessities, several specialist laboratories around the world, including the LMAM, are cooperating, sharing outcomes and information.

Kamiar Aminian, who heads the LMAM said, “Gait speed is increasingly regarded as the sixth vital sign, alongside body temperature, blood pressure, breathing rate, heart rate, and pain. It has been proven that older adults who walk more slowly than one meter per second have more health problems on average. Conversely, people who have a good gait speed show greater cognitive function, develop fewer illnesses, suffer fewer falls and spend less time in the hospital. Scientists have even established a direct link between gait and lifespan.”

This is the reason project leaders are keen to find new ways to analyze people’s gait, both for preventive purposes and to develop new drugs and therapeutic tools. This is essential especially for people in Europe, where over-65s now make up almost 20% of the population.

Gait analysis is also practical because it is simple to do: currently, patients only have to walk for three or four meters for a device to gauge their average speed. However, the MOBILISE-D project aims to achieve much greater precision and to identify the key factors involved in gait.

Aminian said, “One of our main challenges will be to develop a portable system that can reliably analyze people with very slow gait speed. This is more difficult – and the margin of error is much larger than with people who walk rapidly.”

MOBILISE-D was launched with the support of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), and it is being led by the University of Newcastle in the UK. It has a budget of 50 million euros, of which the European Union is contributing 29 million euros. It is expected to run for five years: two years of technical work and three years of clinical trials.



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