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Low physical function after age 65 associated with future cardiovascular disease

Among people older than age 65 who were assessed using a short physical function test, having lower physical function was independently associated with a greater risk of developing heart attack, heart failure and stroke, according to new research published today in the Journal of the American Heart Association, an open access, peer-reviewed journal of the American Heart Association.

The Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB) used in this study is considered a measure of physical function, which includes walking speed, leg strength and balance. This study examined physical function, which is different from physical fitness.

“While traditional cardiovascular disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking or diabetes are closely linked to cardiovascular disease, particularly in middle-aged people, we also know these factors may not be as predictive in older adults, so we need to identify nontraditional predictors for older adults,” said study senior author Kunihiro Matsushita, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Division of Cardiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. “We found that physical function in older adults predicts future cardiovascular disease beyond traditional heart disease risk factors, regardless of whether an individual has a history of cardiovascular disease.”

The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, an ongoing community-based cohort enrolled 15,792 participants, ages 45-64 years from 1987-1989, to investigate the causes for atherosclerotic disease (plaque or fatty buildup in the arteries). Yearly and semi-yearly (beginning in 2012) check-ins included phone calls and in-person clinic exams.

The present study evaluated health data from ARIC visit 5 (2011-2013; all participants were older than age 65) as a baseline, when the SPPB physical function test was first collected. The SPPB measured physical function to produce a score according to walking speed, speed of rising from a chair without using your hands and standing balance.

Researchers analyzed health data for 5,570 adults (58% women; 78% white adults; 22% Black adults), average age of 75 from 2011 to 2019. Using SPPB scores, the physical function of the participants was categorized into three groups: low, intermediate and high, based on their test performance.

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