Purpose: The purpose of this study was to determine whether treadmill walking, as a mode of physical activity for older adults, was comparable with overground walking when considering 1) spatiotemporal gait characteristics (walking velocity, stride length, and stride rate) at a preferred velocity and a prescribed intensity typical of many exercise prescriptions (i.e., RPE of 13); and 2) the effects on physical function (short physical performance battery (SPPB), lateral mobility, 400-m walk) and participants' attitude towards training and level of enjoyment.
Methods: Gait characteristics were measured at each participant's preferred and RPE 13 velocity during treadmill and overground walking (N = 23, 74 ± 4 yr). Participants were then randomized to either a treadmill or overground progressive intensity and duration walking program of 18 sessions.
Results: Both the preferred and RPE 13 walking velocities were significantly slower on the treadmill compared with overground (t(22) = −10.87, P < 0.001 and t(22) = −8.54, P < 0.001, respectively), as a result of significantly shorter stride lengths and slower stride rates. After training, there were no differences between the groups for RPE 13 velocity, SPPB or lateral mobility. However, following the intervention, the overground group completed the 400-m walk faster (F(1,15) = 6.06, P < 0.05), had a more favorable attitude towards training, and expressed a more favorable level of enjoyment about the training program than the treadmill group (F(1,16) = 7.5; P < 0.05).
Conclusion: An overground walking program appears to offer some advantages over a treadmill walking program in older adults. Using RPE alone to regulate intensity may reduce the benefits of a treadmill walking program in older adults.