Spontaneous walking speed is a well-known measure for functional capabilities. Often used as an indicator of performance and physical health, its clinometric properties can be useful in predicting an individual’s future health status, especially for adults 65 and older. Keep in mind, when considering gait speed, depending on the patient, their preferential spontaneous walking speed may vary.  For healthy adults this comfort zone speed averages between 2.7 and 3.6 mph. The difference between a person’s spontaneous speed and fast speed indicates their ability to adapt to different situations. Consequently, this speed difference can be seen as an important marker of functional reserves of a person and their adaptability.

Walking speed represents the overall performance of walking. To calculate walking speed, an individual’s distance is divided by required travel time. Walking speed is also the product of step length and cadence which varies depending on the size of the individual’s lower limbs. These parameters should be normalized when assessing long-term follow-up or comparing a person against normative data.

Since gait speed is calculated using both cadence and step length, it’s possible to produce the same speed with different configurations in cadence and step length. For example, a series of many short small steps can produce the same speed as a series of a few very long steps. For this reason, walking speed should not be the sole determining factor to properly analyze the progress of a patient over time. The step length and step rate configuration are important because preferential gait speed in a healthy person is very close to one that minimizes the energy expenditure per unit distance, but only when the step rate is freely chosen.  

Watch the video to learn more about the relationship between walking speed, step length and cadence.