If you and your significant other have a tradition of getting out and walking together, good for you — literally. To get the most benefit from your walks, however, you may need to adjust your speed. Couples walk more slowly when they are together, a Purdue University study finds, particularly if they are holding hands.

Researchers measured the walking times and gait speeds of 72 couples who ranged in age from 25 to 79. People’s speed and time were clocked as they walked in various settings, some clear; others, obstacle-strewn pathways. Their speeds when walking together, walking together holding hands and walking individually were also measured.

Couples walk more slowly when they are together, a Purdue University study finds, particularly if they are holding hands.

“We hoped that slower partners would speed up to match the faster partner, but that was not the case,” Libby Richards, an associate professor of nursing, said in a statement.

Current guidelines call for 150 minutes of moderate activity every week. That’s between 20 and 30 minutes a day, depending on how many days a week you exercise.

It’s not unusual for people to walk or exercise with a spouse, partner or friend, Richards said. It tends to improve motivation and make exercising more of a habit.

The team focused on couples “because partners in committed relationships often provide essential support to promote one another's healthy lifestyle behaviors, including exercise,” researcher, Melissa Franks, associate professor of human development and family studies at Purdue, said.

If walking with your significant other means your brisk walk turns into a saunter, the advantages of exercise go down considerably. “If someone substantially slows down when they are walking with someone else,” Richards pointed out, “that could negate some of the health benefits recognized if they walked alone at a faster pace.”

“Gait speed is important to measure because it is related to overall health,” researcher, Shirley Rietdyk, a professor of health and kinesiology, explained. “Typical gait speed is predictive of fall risk, functional ability, disability recovery and mortality,” she said, adding, “Slower gait speed is not an inevitable aspect of aging. Older adults who are more active tend to maintain their gait speed. Older adults who walk slower tend to have poorer health and lower functional status.”

Walking is one of the easiest activities, but people tend to walk slower as they get older and may have to find other fitness routines to stay active. “…[D]o the activity you are most likely to stick with,” Rietdyk recommends. “[S]trength, coordination and multimodal training are all effective in increasing gait speed…No one type of training is better than the other.”

And, Richards adds, any physical activity is better than none. Couples walking together should try to keep up as fast a pace as they can. If one person is considerably faster than the other, he or she may want to walk ahead a little and then double back, rather than slow down. This may also help slower walkers focus more on their walking and could improve their pace a little.

The study is published in Gait & Posture.