Why is Walking Considered the 6th Vital Sign?

Your feet do more than get you from point A to B–they can also tell the story of your health. In addition to the other main vital signs, medical professionals increasingly view walking as a critical indicator of overall health. If you’re curious about your health, one of the best things you can do is check out your walk.

What Are the Vital Signs?

Vital signs are basic measurements of our body’s most essential functions. Medical science has commonly focused on five main vital signs: oxygen saturation, blood pressure, body temperature, respiratory rate, and heart rate. From routine check-ups to more specific medical procedures, these vital signs are the measurements that doctors and nurses take to establish a baseline for your body’s health and to monitor your overall wellness. Let’s take a closer look at each one of these critical measures:

Oxygen Saturation 

Oxygen saturation (SpO2) measures the amount of oxygen carried by your red blood cells. Expressed as a percentage, it represents the oxygen saturation level in arterial blood. Lower SpO2 levels may indicate respiratory or circulatory problems, which can result in reduced oxygen supply to tissues and organs. 

Blood Pressure  

Blood pressure measures the force exerted by the blood circulating on the walls of your blood vessels, recorded as systolic pressure over diastolic pressure, with the normal measure being 120 over 80 mmHg. The systolic pressure represents the force exerted during the heart’s contraction, while the diastolic pressure represents the force when the heart is at rest between beats.. Abnormal blood pressure can indicate hypertension (too high) or hypotension (too low), both of which have significant meaning about your cardiovascular health.

Respiratory Rate  

Respiratory rate measures the number of breaths taken per minute. It provides information about lung function and oxygen exchange in the body. The normal respiratory rate for adults is between 12 and 20 breaths per minute. Deviations from the normal range can indicate respiratory disorders or diseasesor metabolic abnormalities.  

Heart Rate   

Heart rate measures how fast the heart beats per minute and is a critical indication of how efficient the heart is functioning. An abnormal heart rate can signify underlying health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, stress, dehydration, or as a side effect of certain medications.  

Walking as the 6th Vital Sign   

While the five previous vital signs have long been accepted as the core measures to monitor health and overall wellbeing, newer research is making a case for a new measurement to be added to the vital signs shortlist: walking.   

Research has shown that walking can strengthen feet, legs, hips, and back, improve posture and cardiovascular fitness, and support mental health. But what makes walking a vital sign on par with oxygen saturation, blood pressure, body temperature, and respiratory rate? Aside from its established health benefits, walking has predictive power.   

The Preventative Value of Walking Analysis 

Walking can unearths insights on your overall health. How you walk doesn’t happen by accident, it’s a product of many biomechanics working together to provide speed, power, energy, balance, and coordination. Your walk is also influenced by heredity, environment, habit, and experience. This complex collaboration between bodily functions and forces can be harmonious, discordant, or anything in between.   

The nuances of this multifaceted collaboration are revealed when you move. The significance of walking biometrics is that they do not only indicate points of existing discord– like misalignment, injury, or muscular imbalance– but they can also point to potential issues in the future. “Learning about your walking is taking your health matters into your own hands,” says Baliston’s Director of Clinical Application and Movement Science, Chris Proulx.  “Or like getting your car inspected before its due.”  

Luckily, unlike fate, early knowledge and committed shifts in training and lifestyle, along with rapid medical treatment thanks to early diagnosis, can shift the course of your walk’s predictions. Sharp balance, coordination, or speed drop-offs can point to future health risks.  

The Importance of Walking Quality  

How sound is your walking quality throughout your day-to-day activities? The answer may point to how well you are overall and how likely you are to experience injury, illness, or a fall in the future. This evaluation is what makes innovative gait-analysis technology, like those provided by Baliston, so revolutionary when it comes to maintaining and improving structural wellness. Baliston shoes are designed with an embedded proprietary sensor module which analyzes the way the wearer moves to provide personalized insights and recommendations that increase understanding of their body to reduce fatigue, back pain, and injury risk.  

Speed isn’t the only walking metric that holds significant weight within Baliston’s gait analysis. Lack of muscular engagement, coordination, and balance can hint at existing and future concerns. For athletes, ankle sprains and ACL tears are more likely to occur when one part of the body is overcompensating for another. Among older people, a rapid decline in mobility has been linked not only with increased fall risks but with degenerative neurological disorders. Walking biometrics captured directly from the wearer’s feet and analyzed through advanced AI like Baliston’s, is so potent that it even goes beyond predicting future health– it can also be a diagnostic tool.  

Walking as Rehabilitation  

Walking can not only predict and prevent health outcomes– it can also heal you. Given that it embodies a fusion of numerous facets of health and well-being, walking also holds potential as a rehabilitative practice when approached with mindfulness and good habits. Stimulating both the right and left hemispheres of our brain, a balanced and rhythmic walking pattern is surprisingly powerful. In essence, this uncomplicated motion bridges our physical and neurological systems, facilitating the integration of mind and body.   

If you’re recovering from injury, walking can help you refamiliarize your body with itself, re-establishing connections between injured muscles or bones through low-stress, weight-bearing activity. In fact, after many types of significant surgeries, patients must show that they can walk in order to be discharged home. Walking also releases endorphins, which stimulate relaxation and improve mood. This can help ease recovery from physical injuries, and it can also support recovery from mental illness. In fact, research indicates [link here] that walking can help people with PTSD, anxiety, and depression.  

The Untapped Trove of Data — In Your Feet!  

With research pointing towards walking as a sixth vital sign, monitoring walking measurements like stride length, propulsion, symmetry, and degree of heel impact could be a critical step in your wellness journey. Are you looking for insight into your current and future health? You don’t need to look far. You’re standing on an untapped trove of health data.  

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