Should You Slow Down to Exercise With Your Spouse or Get a New Walking Buddy?

Q: My husband (72) and I (74) walk together every day. It gets us out the door and keeps us motivated, but the truth is, I want to walk faster than he does. Any tips for speeding him up, or is it OK if I slow down?

A: The couple that walks together, talks together, and maybe even holds hands together... And that, say researchers, can slow down the faster walker to his or her health disadvantage. In contrast, multiple studies show that having a walking buddy is a great idea. It keeps you motivated on days when you might slack off and it makes exercise fun.

So how do you keep the benefits and reduce the potential detriments?

That's what researchers from Purdue University wondered. Their study, published in Gait & Posture, looked at walking times and speeds of each person in 72 couples, ranging in age from 25 to 79. The participants walked in clear or obstacle-filled pathways, side by side, holding hands, and individually. The researchers found that the faster person slowed down, not visa versa.

The healthier option is to have the slower person speed up — since gait speed is a measure of overall fitness, and when it declines it's a sign of premature aging. The researchers advise that slow walkers can become faster by taking 20 minutes twice a week to do strength-building exercises, work on increasing balance with yoga or physical therapy and mix in some aerobics, such as swimming or step classes.

In the meantime, a couple can go out together, then set meeting points along the route. The faster person may have to circle back to make the rendezvous, increasing both distance and speed. But whatever creative solutions you come up with, don't give up your being-active-together time. That builds relationship muscles as well as skeletal ones!

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