Walking-and-Talking Gets Harder in Middle Age

Researchers spot 'subtle' changes in gait if people are multitasking starting at age 55
By Steve Huff,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 23, 2023 6:35 PM CDT
Walking-and-Talking Gets Harder in Middle Age
   (Getty Images / Stewart Cohen)

For those 55 and over who have discovered that sometimes things just don't click like they used to, researchers have news: It's not just you. A new study suggests the feeling that it's not as easy to multitask while walking once you reach your mid-50s is real and rooted in normal changes that occur in the brain, according to a Harvard Medical School news release. CBS News reports that doing two things at the same time is a more complex balance of activity than we may realize and relies on several different "cognitive resources." Once the brain begins processing information more slowly, it can affect physical performance.

The study, conducted by Harvard Medical School and Hebrew SeniorLife, was published in Lancet Healthy Longevity. Researchers culled data from almost 1,000 adults between the ages of 40 and 64 in Spain and discovered that, according to study author Junhong Zhou, even healthy participants demonstrated "subtle yet important changes in gait starting in the middle of the sixth decade of life" if they were walking and talking or perhaps just walking and thinking. According to the research, what investigators called "dual-tasking"—having a conversation, doing mental math, etc.—will hamper walking.

Essentially, if you view the brain as akin to a computer, then researchers found that beginning around age 55, its processor can slow down the moment complex mental and physical tasks begin, interfering with the job of staying in motion. As CBS reports, diseases like dementia begin to show up once some people hit middle age, but turning 55 doesn't mean you will begin an inevitable downhill slide. Many study participants over 60 were able to ace tasks like walking and talking just as well as some up to a decade younger than them. (More aging stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.