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In human locomotion, the magnitude of gait variability is a strong predictor of fall risk and frailty due to aging and disease. Beyond variability magnitude, the past two decades have provided emerging alternative methodologies for studying biological variability. Specifically, coordination variability has been found to be critically important within a healthy, adaptive system. While many activities aim to minimize end-point variability, greater coordination variability indicates a more flexible system, and is greater in experts compared to novices, or healthy compared to diseased individuals. Finally, variability structure (i.e., fractal dynamics) may describe the overall adaptive capacity of the locomotor system. We provide empirical support that fractal dynamics are associated with step length symmetry during challenging split-belt treadmill walking. Individuals whose fractal scaling approached 1/f fractal scaling during constrained walking also exhibited the best gait adaptability performance. Importantly, this relation between fractality and gait adaptability was not observed in unperturbed preferred speed walking.
Ducharme and van Emmerik are with the Department of Kinesiology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA.