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Slow Walking Speed Predicts Stroke Risk in Postmenopausal Women

  • Authors: News Author: Laurie Barclay, MD
    CME Author: Charles Vega, MD
  • CME/CE Released: 2/27/2008
  • Valid for credit through: 3/13/2010, 11:59 PM EST
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Target Audience and Goal Statement

This article is intended for primary care clinicians, geriatricians, obstetrician-gynecologists, neurologists, and other specialists who care for patients at risk for stroke.

The goal of this activity is to provide medical news to primary care clinicians and other healthcare professionals in order to enhance patient care.

Upon completion of this activity, participants will be able to:

  1. Identify health outcomes previously associated with walking speed.
  2. Specify the effect of walking speed on incident ischemic stroke among older women.


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  • Laurie Barclay, MD

    Laurie Barclay, MD, is a freelance reviewer and writer for Medscape.


    Disclosure: Laurie Barclay, MD, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


  • Brande Nicole Martin

    Brande Nicole Martin is the News CME editor for Medscape Medical News.


    Disclosure: Brande Nicole Martin has disclosed no relevant financial information.

CME Author(s)

  • Charles P Vega, MD

    Associate Professor; Residency Director, Department of Family Medicine, University of California, Irvine


    Disclosure: Charles Vega, MD, has disclosed an advisor/consultant relationship to Novartis, Inc.

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Slow Walking Speed Predicts Stroke Risk in Postmenopausal Women

Authors: News Author: Laurie Barclay, MD CME Author: Charles Vega, MDFaculty and Disclosures

CME/CE Released: 2/27/2008

Valid for credit through: 3/13/2010, 11:59 PM EST


February 27, 2008 — Slow walking speed was found to be a strong predictor of an increased risk for incident ischemic stroke among postmenopausal women independent of other established risk factors for stroke, according to the results of a study reported in the February 21 Online First issue of Stroke.

"Walking speed is a simple, reliable, and valid measure of functional status that has been shown to be strongly correlated with age-related outcomes and may be an indicator of subclinical cerebrovascular disease," write Aileen P. McGinn, PhD, from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, New York, and colleagues. "However, few studies have investigated the association of walking speed with risk of incident ischemic stroke."

The study cohort consisted of 13,048 postmenopausal women enrolled in the Women's Health Initiative who had no history of stroke at baseline. Mean age at baseline was 65 years. At follow-up, 264 of these women had had incident ischemic strokes.

The relationship between performance on a timed walking test and the risk for incident ischemic stroke was determined by Cox proportional hazards regression to obtain hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) with multivariate adjustment for age, race or ethnicity, body mass index, waist-to-hip ratio, depression, arthritis, hypertension, smoking, systolic blood pressure, treated diabetes, hormone use, use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, aspirin use, self-reported general health, and history of coronary heart disease.

In this population, slower walking speed significantly predicted incident ischemic stroke. Compared with women in the fastest walking speed tertile, those in the slowest walking speed tertile had an increased risk for incident ischemic stroke (HR, 1.69; 95% CI, 1.21 - 2.36 after multivariate adjustment). This association was not changed significantly by additional adjustment for other physical function variables, such as grip strength and chair stands.

Limitations of the study include possible misclassification bias and failure to capture nonhospitalized patients with strokes.

"Slow walking speed was found to be a strong predictor of increased risk of incident ischemic stroke among postmenopausal women independent of other established risk factors for stroke," the study authors write. "Notably, the strength of the association of walking speed with incident ischemic stroke in this group of women is independent of and comparable, if not stronger, to established risk factors for stroke, including hypertension and diabetes."

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, US Department of Health and Human Services funded the Women's Health Initiative. The study authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Stroke. Published online February 21, 2008.

Clinical Context

Walking speed is a good surrogate measure of gait and motor function, and reduced walking speed has been associated with multiple negative health outcomes, including higher risks for falls, functional disability, hospitalizations, and dementia. In addition, slower walking speed has been related to radiologic findings of white matter hyperintensities and lacunar infarcts.

A previous study of older adults with a mean age of 73 years also demonstrated that both reduced walking speed and a reduced number of chair stands were associated with a higher risk for incident stroke. Moreover, slower walking speed increased the risk for mortality attributable to stroke. The current study examines walking speed as a prognostic factor for stroke among a cohort of postmenopausal women with a younger mean age vs the previous study.

Study Highlights

  • Study subjects included those enrolled in the Women's Health Initiative, which included postmenopausal women between the ages of 50 and 79 years. Women with a history of alcohol or drug dependency or significant mental illness were excluded from participation, and the current analysis excluded subjects with a previous history of stroke.
  • All subjects underwent a thorough health assessment at baseline, particularly for cardiovascular risk factors. Average physical activity was also measured, and a subset of participants were assessed for walking speed by measurement of the time it took to complete a 6-meter walk. Subjects also were assessed for repeated chair stands and handgrip strength.
  • The main outcome of the study was the relationship between incident ischemic stroke and walking speed. Stroke was defined as the rapid onset of a persistent neurologic deficit lasting more than 24 hours and resulting from an arterial occlusion, and reports of stroke were adjudicated with the medical record. The main outcome was adjusted to account for other cardiovascular risk factors.
  • 13,048 women were included in the current analysis, and the mean age was 65 years.
  • Participants were divided into tertiles (> 1.24 meters per second, 1.06 - 1.24 meters per second, and < 1.06 meters per second) to help determine the relationship between walking speed and stroke.
  • Women with faster walking speeds were generally younger, more likely to be white, taller, have better self-reported health, and have a lower body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio. Subjects with diabetes, hyperlipidemia, arthritis, and coronary heart disease had slower walking times, but subjects receiving hormone therapy had faster walking times.
  • Participants with faster walking times had a lower mean systolic blood pressure.
  • On multivariate adjusted models, the HR for subjects with a walking time between 1.06 and 1.24 meters per second was 1.29 for incident stroke vs women in the fastest tertile. This result was not statistically significant.
  • For the slowest tertile in walking speed, the adjusted HR was 1.69 for incident stroke vs the fastest tertile. This result was statistically significant.
  • The addition of grip strength and chair stands to the multivariable adjustment failed to significantly alter the main result of the study. However, the number of chair stands completed was inversely related to the risk for ischemic stroke. Grip strength did not affect the risk for stroke.

Pearls for Practice

  • Reduced walking speed has previously been associated with an increased risk for falls, functional disability, hospitalizations, dementia, white matter hyperintensities and lacunar infarcts, and incident stroke among older adults.
  • The current study demonstrates that reduced walking speed among older women can increase the risk for incident ischemic stroke.


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