During walking, the body center of mass oscillates along the vertical plane. Its displacement is highest at mid-swing and lowest at terminal swing during the transition to double support. Its vertical velocity (CoMv) has been observed to increase as the center of mass falls between mid- and late swing but is reduced just before double support. This suggests that braking of the center of mass is achieved with active neural control. We tested whether this active control deteriorates with aging (Experiment 1) and during a concurrent cognitive task (Experiment 2). At short steps of <.4 m, CoMv control was low and similar among all age groups. All groups braked the CoMv at longer steps of >.4 m but older subjects did so to a lesser extent. During the cognitive task, young subjects increased CoMv control (i.e. increase in CoMv braking) while maintaining step length and walking speed. Older subjects on the other hand, did not increase CoMv control but rather maintain it by reducing both step length and walking speed. These results suggest that active braking of the CoM during the transition to double support predominates in steps >.4 m. It could be a manifestation of the balance control system, since the braking occurs at late stance where body weight is being shifted to the contralateral side. The active braking mechanism also appears to require some attentional resource. In aging, reducing step length and speed are strategic to maintaining effective center of mass control during the transition to double support. However, the lesser degree of control in older adults indicates a true age-related deficit.
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