In the elderly population there is an easy observation that, to me, is suggestive of ageing and fitness. You might think by looking, and you would be correct, you can guess whether or not a person is old. Certainly a 65 year old doesn’t have the same youthful appearance, as does a 25 year old.
What if you put a mask over the face of a 65 year old and a 25 year old – could you identify which was the older of the two if they were walking past? Maybe and probably because you might be observant enough to note other changes of skin tone, posture or by using some other evocative surveillance techniques.
What if you covered the 25 year old and the 65 year old from head to ankle (leaving some space between the ankle and the floor to avoid a fall in this experiment) with a burlap bag and had them walk across a room. Both wearing the same brand and model shoes and socks so that all you see is a burlap bag held upright by two feet per bag with all four feet looking the same. Might you still be able to pick out the younger stealth walker?
Maybe – maybe not.
Generally, watching their gait one can select the 65 year old if you know for what you are looking to find. As people age gait changes. Older people will have both feet planted before the lagging foot lifts into the next step. Younger people lead into the forward step with trailing leg the moment the front foot strikes ground. Next time you are at a grocery store or the Wal-Mart parking lot watch folks walking into the store. After a few minutes you’ll recognize the difference between a youthful walk and that of many senior citizens.
You may further find that there is no absolute. You will see old geezers prancing along eager to grab the best shopping deals and you’ll see worn out youngsters huffing a puffing to get the electric cart in order to cruise toward their purchases. Still as a rule older folks do have an identifiable foot plant while walking.
Gait is something I watch during archery tournaments or during a group practice. Your initial thought is this is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever read. (Over 40 years of health care work experience does take a toll.) Here’s where I let you know there’s more to the observation.
The individuals with an older gait lean toward lower relative archery perfromance score. The statistical analysis comes a bit further along in this writing.
Can you increase your score by improving your gait if you are older? Well, that is a stretch – but in all likelihood, yes.
Ageing is characterized by a number of physical changes that contribute to a decline in the ability to perform daily tasks. (1) Archery is not a vigorous activity, however, archers do a lot of walking and a lot of standing for long periods of time.
If an archer’s ability to perform a solid walk diminishes then might the activity associated with that walking decline? I can’t say that is true, but it seems so. What I can further say is that generally there is an associated score difference with the groups exhibiting variance in gait.
Here are the numbers: Over the past two years I’ve observed 12 archers placed into two groups of six. Group 1 is the group with a relatively youthful gait. Group 2 are the archers with an older gait. The mean age for Group 1 is 63.2 years and Group 2 is 63.3 years. The difference is 0.14 years and is not statistically significant (p = 0.92, paired t-test).
Before I go further both groups practice archery roughly the same amount and have been performing archery for similar lengths of time.
Now the very interesting results: Group 1 out scored Group 2 by an average of 20 points. The data includes indoor and outdoor tournaments over one and two days of scoring. Even so a Group 2 archer has beaten Group 1 archers but not as a rule (Once out of 8 matches). So, I can somewhat rule out that Group 1 had better archers. The single Group 2 win came during 1-day event. Which suggests the Group 2 archers, as a set, with noticeably older gaits performed less well than more youthfully gait Group 1. The results are statistically significance (p= 0.035, paired t-test).
From this I conclude that the Group 2 demonstrating an elderly gait was not as proficient at archery compared to Group 1 with the more youthful gait.
The elderly gaited group could improve their walking with exercise. In a study of people, mean age 65.9, stretching was shown to reduce hip flexion contracture and increase hip and pelvis range of motion, thus improving gait performance. (1)
Over a twelve week program the test subjects were given supervised stretching designed to improve their range of motion. After 12 weeks they displayed gait parameters that were similar to those reported in young healthy adults. (1)
I believe that the gait observation, identifying an elderly walk, identified archers with a generally lower state of general fitness. A simple exercise program may improve general fitness and this may reflect in higher archery scores. (2, 3) This might be more relevant in the older archer.
(Note: this is a small sample size. A larger sample might change the results. I’ll go out on a limb and suggest this is accurate.)
(1) Cristopoliski F1, Barela JA, Leite N, Fowler NE, Rodacki AL Stretching exercise program improves gait in the elderly. Gerontology. 2009;55(6):614-20. doi: 10.1159/000235863. Epub 2009 Aug 27