October 24, 2013
Men Slow Their Stroll For Lovers
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Every person has their own optimal walking speed, but men will slow that speed down if they are walking with the woman they love, according to a new study in the journal PLOS ONE.
Preferred walking speed is affected by the use of body mass and lower limb length, and men tend to have more of both. With this difference in mind, study researchers noted unique changes in behavior when mixed-sex couples were observed walking together, as someone in the pair will most likely need to pay the energetic cost of not walking at his or her preferred speed.
In the study, scientists from Seattle Pacific University in Washington examined the walking speeds of eleven men and eleven women as they walked around a track by themselves, with friends of the same and opposite sex, and with a romantic partner either holding hands or hands-free. The initial ‘solo’ walk was used to set a baseline speed, which averaged 3.4 mph for men and 3.2 mph for women.
The researchers saw that men significantly slowed their pace to match that of their female companions, but only if the woman was their significant other. The slowed pace was observed regardless of whether or not the couple was holding hands.
When mixed-sex couples who were not romantically involved walked together, the researchers saw that women sped up to 3.3 mph while men slowed their pace to match. The research team also noted that same-sex friends who walked together sped up if they were men and slowed down if they were women.
“Previous work has noted that women report feeling extremely close to their female friends and here we show that women walk more slowly together even than they do with their Partner,” the study author wrote in their report. “Conversely, men report that they do not feel extremely close or intimate with their male friends and thus here walk more quickly than they do alone.”
The Seattle scientists speculated that man’s history as hunter-gatherers could have something to do with males’ tendency to slow down for a female partner.
“In recent hunter-gatherer populations, males and females often travel similar distances making the energetic consequences of daily mobility an important selection pressure on both sexes,” they wrote. “When people of both sexes walk together, either both sexes must pay an energetic penalty by compromising speeds or the male must pay an energetic penalty to accommodate the female’s speed.”
“To alleviate this energetic penalty, many populations travel in single-sex groups in which males travel alone or in pairs and females travel together,” the researchers continued. “By traveling in single-sex groups, there is less variation of body size and optimal walking speeds within the group, making this an effective mobility strategy for alleviating the energetic penalty that comes with deviating from one’s own optimum to compromise walking speeds.”
Regardless of speed, doctors continue to find evidence supporting the notion of walking as a healthy form of exercise. A study published earlier this year found that walking can be just as beneficial as running for reducing heart risk.