And 3 feet per second may be the threshold that predicts whether they can meet a workday's challenges, the researchers found.
One of every four people who has a stroke is younger than 65 years old. As many as 44% may be unable to return to work, largely because of difficulty walking, the study authors said.
"Stroke affects motor control and motor function. To return to work, you must be able to walk to your car, bus, office and meeting rooms. If you can't walk or you get tired easily, your ability to do your job is going to be seriously impacted," said Hannah Jarvis, the study's lead author. She's a research associate at Manchester Metropolitan University in England.
For the study, Jarvis and her colleagues compared mobility in 46 stroke survivors from Wales, aged 18 to 65, with 15 people who had not had a stroke. The investigators tested how far and how fast participants could walk in three minutes.
The study found that stroke survivors who couldn't walk more than 3-feet per second were unlikely to be able to return to work.
The report was published Sept. 26 in the journal Stroke.
Among the 23% of study participants who went back to work, nine out of 10 walked faster than 3-feet per second. Those who went back to work walked almost 6-feet per second. Those who didn't return to work walked only about 2.5-feet per second.
Stroke survivors had a harder time walking than those who didn't suffer a stroke, and they tired faster, the study authors added.
"Walking speed is a really useful tool for clinicians to use to predict return to work. It's simple, low cost and effective," Jarvis said in a journal news release.
She suggested that clinicians can use this measure to guide their patients during rehabilitation. "For example, they can focus on increasing walking speed and maintaining quality of walking in order to give their patients a chance of going back to work," Jarvis said.