Our walking speeds are dictated by more than whether we’re rushing to an appointment or taking a leisurely stroll. Rather, we subconsciously tailor our pace according to our physical features, such as how long our legs are and how much we weigh, in order to minimize energy expenditure. For men, hitting that sweet spot generally means walking faster than women.
But what happens when men and women walk together? In order not to lose each other on the street, someone would have to either slow down or speed up their natural pace. An October 2013 study finds that the adjustment says more about love than mechanics.
Researchers recruited 22 guys and gals of various weights and heights. Some of them were romantically involved, others were just friends. They paired the participants up with either love interests, same-sex friends or different-sex friends, and asked them to casually walk around a track while their speeds were recorded. The researchers also clocked each of those participants walking alone.
Our walking pace, it turns out, says a lot about our relationship with the person we’re walking with, the researchers describe in the journal PLoS One. “Even a simple behavior like walking is mediated by our emotional interactions with the people around us,” senior author Cara Wall-Scheffler, Ph.D., a biological anthropologist with a joint appointment at Seattle Pacific University and the University of Washington, says. She and her co-author, Janelle Wagnild, found that men and women consistently made certain adjustments to their walking patterns depending on context.
When men walked with another male friend, they both tended to walk a little bit faster than they did when alone—perhaps a sign of competition, Wall-Scheffler explains. When walking with a female romantic partner or interest, in contrast, the guys moved “very, very slowly.” They decreased their pace by 6 percent compared to their ideal speed when walking alone—and slowed another percentage point while holding hands. In other words, men chivalrously bear the brunt of the energetic burden to make speed adjustments for their significant other.
Women, on the other hand, tended to walk a bit slower in the company of other women, but they kept about the same pace when walking either alone or with their husband or boyfriend. When women walked with platonic male friends, however, the pair compromised; women slightly quickened their pace to keep up while men slowed down a little.
For ladies seeking to take a platonic relationship to the next level or who suspect a male friend may want to do the same, perhaps putting him to the walking speed test would provide a window into his true feelings. And for those in relationships, take a moment to thank your guy for his energetic sacrifice.
This post originally appeared on YouBeauty.com.
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