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New Study Shows Fast Walking Speed Associated With Longer Life

Mazerine Wingate, 100 years old, has sharp eyesight, drives a car, still goes to work six days a week at a post office in the eastern state of Maryland, and advises it's important to keep moving, February 2011

People the world over are living longer, and now a new study shows who is likely to live the longest. The information could help doctors and others, including the elderly, plan goals for treatment and care.

Not many people who live to be 100 are still driving a car. But Mazerine Wingate is. His eyesight is still sharp, and not only that, he still goes to work six days a week at a post office in the eastern state of Maryland. He started his job as a janitor there when he was 60. And, you can find him keeping the post office spotlessly clean six days a week.

Wingate simply said, "I feel like working."

Wingate said he has no major health issues. Rob Parsell, the photographer who shot this interview, asked him for advice. Wingate's recommendation: "Keep moving. Keep moving."

"That's it? Just keep moving?" Parsell pressed.

"Keep moving," Wingate replied.

While it is unusual for people of that age to hold down a job, it is becoming more and more common to reach the 100-year mark. Dr. Neil Buckholtz at the National Institute on Aging said long life is a concern for governments the world over.

"The population, not only in the United States, but worldwide, of older people is increasing," said Buckholtz. "And actually, the fastest-growing group of people in the United States are those people over 85."

A new study shows a relationship between fast walking and life expectancy. For this study, researchers looked at walking speed and other health factors for almost 35,000 older adults. They followed the participants for up to 20 years. Dr. Stephanie Studenski at the University of Pittsburgh led the study.

"Your walking speed is a reflection of just how well many of your body's systems are doing," noted Studenski.

By timing walking speed and using the longevity charts, doctors can provide better care for their patients. For example, most doctors don't screen patients older than 70 for prostate cancer. But if a man is otherwise healthy and energetic, and expected to live at least 10 more years, he might benefit from the screening. For those who are less healthy, doctors could look for ways to improve their health and quality of life.

Dr. Studenski says the charts, while good, however, are not always indicators of longevity. Some people in good health just prefer to walk slowly.