The research team of the Institute of Sport Sciences of University of Lausanne (ISSUL) compared the effect of treadmill and overground walking on gait parameters, especially the referred walking speed (PWS) of both healthy and physically active older and young adults using the Gait Analysis System of Gait Up.

Preferred walking speed (PWS) represents a performance measure of mobility in older individuals: it can be described as the “sixth vital sign”, as it is considered an indicator of current health and functional status, independent living, quality of life, response to rehabilitation and all causes of mortality in older adults.

There is a controversy regarding the similarity between treadmill and overground walking in gait analysis. Therefore, the aim of this study is twofolds:

  • to compare the effect of treadmill and overground walking on PWS, spatiotemporal parameters and foot kinematics in healthy active older and young adults after adequate treadmill familiarization for both groups
  • to compare the spatiotemporal parameters and foot kinematics of the two groups walking at the same speed (i.e., overground PWS on the treadmill) under the two walking conditions.

Participants’ were tested thanks to two inertial sensor system Physilogs®: these sensors were used to measure the speed, spatiotemporal parameters and foot kinematics of walking.

This study showed that maintaining a high level of physical activity allows older adults to preserve PWS, as assessed during overground or treadmill walking, and mitigate its aging-related decline with attenuated spatiotemporal and foot kinematic changes compared to those characterizing sedentary older adults.

However, the two groups walked at a slower PWS on the treadmill than during overground walking due to the use of a “sliding” gait pattern, thus maximizing the stance but adding only small “safety-related” (Nagano et al. 2013) kinematic gait adaptations. This suggests that treadmill and overground walking are very similar and that the former can be used for assessing gait kinematics in independent and physically active older adults who are adequately familiarized to the treadmill.

Reference: Malatesta, D., Canepa, M., & Fernandez, A. M. “The effect of treadmill and overground walking on preferred walking speed and gait kinematics in healthy, physically active older adults.” European Journal of Applied Physiology (2017): 1-11 (doi: 10.1007/s00421-017-3672-3).