Essex: Volunteers wanted for Essex University walking study which could give early health warning

Dr Matthew Taylor with volunteer Mrs Margaret Taylor

Dr Matthew Taylor with volunteer Mrs Margaret Taylor - Credit: Archant

Scientists at the University of Essex are hoping to find out what a person’s walk says about them.

The team of academics are beginning a long-term study monitoring people’s mobility and gait, and changes to it over time.

They need 1,000 volunteers aged 55 and over to take part. Volunteers will have their walking analysed annually over ten years to see if it changes.

The testing, to be carried out at the university’s Human Performance Unit at its Wivenhoe Campus, will see volunteers walking and turning wearing reflective markers, which are then recorded and compared to previous results to see if there is a difference.

There will also be a community-based study with balance, gait, and strength testing in community centres.

Dr Matthew Taylor (pictured, with volunteer Margaret Taylor), a biomechanics and gait expert, said: “Using reflective markers attached to the body allows us to look at a person’s gait in three dimensions in great detail. From this we can see if their gait changes over time and these changes may indicate problems.”

Professor Jo Jackson, dean of health at the university who is also leading in the study, added: “We hope this research will give us a better understanding of how the ageing process affects walking and to see if there are early indicators which can predict potential problems in the future.

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“Walking is an action which we don’t really think about and take for granted until we start to have a problem with it.

“It is only when we have to think about our walking that we realise how important it is and how complicated a process it is.”

It is thought changes to arm movement or step length during walking may indicate early signs of dementia, Parkinson’s, possible problems elsewhere or an early indicator of the volunteer being at risk of falls.

Volunteers must be able to walk unaided and have not had surgery in the past three months.

Anyone interested in taking part in the study is asked to call Dr Matthew Taylor on 01206 872818 or send an email to