Public Release: 

For adults younger than 78, risk for heart disease linked to risk for problems walking

American Geriatrics Society

Problems with balance, walking speed, and muscle strength become more common as we age, and can lead to disability. In fact, studies show that for older adults, having a slower walking speed can help predict chronic illness, hospitalization, and even death.

A team of researchers from Sweden's Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm examined the factors that put older adults at higher risk for developing physical limitations as they age. The team studied information from the Swedish National Study on Aging and Care-Kungsholmen (SNAC-K), and published their research in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The researchers studied participants aged 60 or older who lived in Stockholm and who did not have heart disease at the start of the study. When the study began, participants did not have problems with walking speed, balance, or chair standing exercises. All of these measure your risk for falls.

The researchers enrolled participants from 2001 to 2004. Follow-up information was taken every six years for younger participants (60 year olds, 66 year olds, and 72 year olds). Information was taken every three years for participants aged 78 and older.

Researchers considered participants' physical activity levels, alcohol consumption, body mass index (BMI, a ratio of weight to height), and ability to think and make decisions. Participants' blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) were tested, too. High CRP levels point to a higher risk for heart disease, which remains a serious concern for older people.

The research team learned four key facts:

  • The more risk factors people had for heart disease, the faster their decline in walking speed.

  • The link between heart disease risk factors and walking difficulties was only present in people under the age of 78.

  • Cognitive function (the ability to think and make decisions) did not play a role in the link between risk factors for heart disease and walking limitations.

  • Heart disease risk factors were not linked to balance problems or the ability to do the chair stand exercise.

Heart disease risk factors such as smoking, living with diabetes, obesity, or being physically inactive were linked to having a slower walking speed. The researchers concluded that reducing heart disease risk factors with appropriate treatments might help "younger" older adults maintain their physical function.

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This summary is from "Cardiovascular Risk Burden and Future Risk of Walking Speed Limitation in Older Adults". It appears online ahead of print in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study authors are Emerald G. Heiland, MSc; Chengxuan Qiu, PhD; Rui Wang, PhD; Giola Santoni, PhD; Yajun Liang, PhD; Laura Fratiglioni, PhD; and Anna-Karin Welmer, PhD.

About the Health in Aging Foundation

This research summary was developed as a public education tool by the Health in Aging Foundation. The Foundation is a national non-profit established in 1999 by the American Geriatrics Society to bring the knowledge and expertise of geriatrics healthcare professionals to the public. We are committed to ensuring that people are empowered to advocate for high-quality care by providing them with trustworthy information and reliable resources. Last year, we reached nearly 1 million people with our resources through HealthinAging.org. We also help nurture current and future geriatrics leaders by supporting opportunities to attend educational events and increase exposure to principles of excellence on caring for older adults. For more information or to support the Foundation's work, visit http://www.HealthinAgingFoundation.org.

About the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society

Included in more than 9,000 library collections around the world, the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (JAGS) highlights emerging insights on principles of aging, approaches to older patients, geriatric syndromes, geriatric psychiatry, and geriatric diseases and disorders. First published in 1953, JAGS is now one of the oldest and most impactful publications on gerontology and geriatrics, according to ISI Journal Citation Reports®. Visit wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/JGS for more details.

About the American Geriatrics Society

Founded in 1942, the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) is a nationwide, not-for-profit society of geriatrics healthcare professionals that has--for 75 years--worked to improve the health, independence, and quality of life of older people. Its nearly 6,000 members include geriatricians, geriatric nurses, social workers, family practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists, and internists. The Society provides leadership to healthcare professionals, policymakers, and the public by implementing and advocating for programs in patient care, research, professional and public education, and public policy. For more information, visit AmericanGeriatrics.org.

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