It's not well known people 70 years old and above that walk with a slow gait, who doctors refer to as "slow walkers," tend to die sooner than fast walkers their same age.

It's also not well known the IQ, motor skills and emotional control, among other capabilities, of a three-year-old child can predict his walking speed at age 45. It's also useful to know gait speed has long been used as a measure of health and aging in geriatric patients.

What these fascinating tidbits of info add up to is a way of predicting the future health of a person as young as three years of age based on a number of measurable factors.

A study conducted by Duke University and published last week in the monthly open access medical journal, JAMA Network Open, reveals the walking speed of 45-year-olds, specifically their fastest walking speed without running, can be used as a marker of their aging brains and bodies.

The study showed slower walkers have "accelerated aging" on a 19-measure scale devised by researchers. Also, the lungs, teeth and immune systems of slow walkers tended to be in worse shape than people that walked faster.

"The thing that's really striking is that this is in 45-year-old people, not the geriatric patients who are usually assessed with such measures," Line J.H. Rasmussen, lead researcher and a post-doctoral researcher at the Duke University department of psychology & neuroscience, said.

What also surprised researchers was the neurocognitive testing these individuals took as children could predict who would become the slower walkers.

At three years old, their scores on IQ, understanding language, frustration tolerance, motor skills and emotional control predicted their walking speed at age 45.

"Doctors know that slow walkers in their seventies and eighties tend to die sooner than fast walkers their same age," senior author Terrie Moffitt, the Nannerl O. Keohane University Professor of Psychology at Duke University, and Professor of Social Development at King's College London, said.

"But this study covered the period from the preschool years to midlife, and found that a slow walk is a problem sign decades before old age."

The study also showed slower walkers also tended to have "older" brains and look older than their calendar ages in photographs.

MRI exams showed the slower walkers tended to have lower total brain volume, lower mean cortical thickness, less brain surface area and higher incidence of white matter "hyperintensities." These are small lesions associated with small vessel disease of the brain. What all this means is their brains appear somewhat older.

Slower walkers also looked older to a panel of eight screeners that assessed each participant's facial age from a photo.

"It's a shame we don't have gait speed and brain imaging for them as children," said Rasmussen.

Some of the differences in health and cognition could be the result of lifestyle choices these individuals made. The study also suggested there are already signs in early life of who would become the slowest walkers.

"We may have a chance here to see who's going to do better health-wise in later life," according to Rasmussen.

The study used data from a long-term study of nearly 1,000 people born during a single year in Dunedin, New Zealand. The 904 research participants in the current study were tested, quizzed and measured their entire lives. The most recent test took place from April 2017 to April 2019 when these people were age 45.

Simply moving around more during the day can reduce fluid retention by stimulating blood flow and improving circulation. Priscilla Du Preez/Unsplash