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Physical Function May Be Preserved by Managing Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors

Managing cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors may play a role in preserving physical function during the aging process, according to a new research article published in The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences.

“Approximately 10 percent of older adults have muscle weakness and diminished physical function that leads to adverse health outcomes and physical disability,” said lead author Shivani Sahni, PhD. “Since loss of physical function contributes to reduced mobility, disability, institutionalization, and mortality, management of CVD risk factors can help preserve physical function with age.”

This article, titled “Association of Vascular Health Measures and Physical Function: A Prospective Analysis in the Framingham Heart Study,” showed that vascular measures are associated with grip strength in cross-sectional analyses and change in gait speed (a measure of physical function) in longitudinal analyses.

This is one of the first community-based studies to comprehensively examine the relationship of aortic stiffness and vascular function with age-related decline in physical function. Higher aortic stiffness was associated with loss of physical function over ~11 years, said Sahni, who is an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an associate scientist at the Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research at Hebrew SeniorLife. She directs the Nutrition Program at the Marcus Institute.

Blood flow declines with aging, in part due to arterial stiffening. Consequent dysfunction in blood vessel dynamics may contribute to organ pathology and declines in muscle mass, explained Sahni. Yet, few studies have specifically assessed the role of vascular function, and changes in functional muscle measures such as mobility and muscle strength.

The current study utilized data from a large cohort of relatively healthy men and women and extends previous investigations by utilizing a longitudinal study design.

The majority of previously published studies have utilized cross-sectional study designs with modest sample sizes. The authors said they believe that future studies should evaluate whether interventions that target vascular health may reduce age-related declines in physical function. This is important because one third of older adults experience physical limitations contributing to reduced mobility, disability, institutionalization, and mortality. Hence, there is a need for development of novel interventions that target prevention of physical limitations in older adults.


The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences is a peer-reviewed publication of The Gerontological Society of America (GSA), the nation's oldest and largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to research, education, and practice in the field of aging. The principal mission of the Society — and its 5,500+ members — is to advance the study of aging and disseminate information among scientists, decision makers, and the general public. GSA’s structure also includes a policy institute, the National Academy on an Aging Society.

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