Elderly people walk at a slower speed and tire more quickly because of loss of strength and mass in leg muscles, according to research published recently in The Journal of Physiology.
Using computer simulations, researchers found these physiological changes explain the slower walking speed preferred by the elderly, and that a focus on building up these leg muscles may be the only effective way to improve elderly walking.
Walking performance, measured in terms of energy efficiency (how far one can travel per calorie consumption) and walking speed, declines as people get older.
The reason for this decline is unknown as aging produces a range of physiological changes which affect gait, but are hard to study individually.
This decline in walking performance can lead to a less active lifestyle, worsening the health of elderly people and is directly linked to a lower 10-year survival rate for people at age 75.
The findings of this study suggest that a focus on strengthening muscles in the legs may be the only effective way to improve elderly walking.
In other words, improving other features such as joint flexibility or walking strategy would not help normal elderly people to walk better.
Read the article / for more info, see Sung & Geyer. (2018). Predictive neuromechanical simulations indicate why walking performance declines with aging. The Journal of Physiology.