Gait variability can be considered an indirect measure of gait stability, in particular regarding temporal or spatial variability assessment. Physical activity, such as walking, is advised for the elderly and can be improved by gait stability. The aim of this study was to investigate the associations between gait stability and physical activity in women of different age ranges.
Forty-two healthy women of different age ranges (18-40 yrs. and 65-75 yrs.) were recruited in the study. To assess physical activity, the subjects wore a multi-sensor activity monitor for a whole week, inferring the time spent in moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA). MVPA were analysed in bouts of at least 10 subsequent minutes (MVPAbouts) and in overall minutes (MVPAtot). A kinematic analysis was performed with an optoelectronic system to calculate gait variability – expressed as standard deviation (SD) and coefficient of variability (CV) of step width, stride length, stance and swing time (during treadmill walking at different speeds).
Elderly women, with high walking speed (5 km/h), and moderate step width variability (CV = 8–27%), met the recommended levels of physical activity (MVPAtot and MVPAbouts). Furthermore, gait variability, adjusted for age and number of falls, was significantly and negatively associated with MVPAtot only at 3.5 km/h, and with MVPAbouts only at 4 km/h.
In a population of healthy elderly women, gait variability was significantly and negatively associated with the level of physical activity. Healthy elderly women, with moderate gait variability (step width variability), and high preferred walking speed, seem to be able to meet the recommended levels of physical activity.