Re-interpreting detrended fluctuation analyses of stride-to-stride variability in human walking

Jonathan B Dingwell, Joseph P Cusumano
Gait & Posture 2010, 32 (3): 348-53
Detrended fluctuation analyses (DFA) have been widely used to quantify stride-to-stride temporal correlations in human walking. However, significant questions remain about how to properly interpret these statistical properties physiologically. Here, we propose a simpler and more parsimonious interpretation than previously suggested. Seventeen young healthy adults walked on a motorized treadmill at each of 5 speeds. Time series of consecutive stride lengths (SL) and stride times (ST) were recorded. Time series of stride speeds were computed as SS=SL/ST. SL and ST exhibited strong statistical persistence (α≫0.5). However, SS consistently exhibited slightly anti-persistent (α<0.5) dynamics. We created three surrogate data sets to directly test specific hypotheses about possible control processes that might have generated these time series. Subjects did not choose consecutive SL and ST according to either independently uncorrelated or statistically independent auto-regressive moving-average (ARMA) processes. However, cross-correlated surrogates, which preserved both the auto-correlation and cross-correlation properties of the original SL and ST time series successfully replicated the means, standard deviations, and (within computational limits) DFA α exponents of all relevant gait variables. These results suggested that subjects controlled their movements according to a two-dimensional ARMA process that specifically sought to minimize stride-to-stride variations in walking speed (SS). This interpretation fully agrees with experimental findings and also with the basic definitions of statistical persistence and anti-persistence. Our findings emphasize the necessity of interpreting DFA α exponents within the context of the control processes involved and the inherent biomechanical and neuro-motor redundancies available.

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