Older people with abdominal fat, weak muscles at risk of developing mobility issues: Study

A slower gait is a natural outcome of the ageing process, but mobility problems can result if the walking speed falls sharply. Everyday activities such as crossing the street before the traffic lights change become increasingly difficult, and there may be a heightened risk of falling as well as a gradual loss of independence if the condition worsens.

 

Brasilia:

A recent study led by a team of international researchers revealed that the dangerous combination of weak muscles and abdominal fat can lead to a significant loss of gait speed in older people.

Older people with abdominal fat, weak muscles have a risk of developing mobility problems, according to a recent study led by a team of international researchers.

The findings of the study published in the journal 'Age and Ageing', was conducted by researchers at the Federal University of Sao Carlos (UFSCar) in the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil, in partnership with colleagues at University College London (UCL) in the UK.

A slower gait is a natural outcome of the ageing process, but mobility problems can result if the walking speed falls sharply. Everyday activities such as crossing the street before the traffic lights change become increasingly difficult, and there may be a heightened risk of falling as well as a gradual loss of independence if the condition worsens.

"Our comparative analysis showed loss of gait speed occurring mainly when abdominal fat and weak muscles were associated. Gait speed didn't decline so sharply in older people who had only abdominal fat or only weak muscles," said Tiago da Silva Alexandre, a professor at the Department of Gerontology, Center for Biological and Health Sciences, Federal University of Sao Carlos (CCBS-UFSCar), and last author of a paper on the study.

The study analysed data for 2,294 individuals aged 60 or more who participated in the English Longitudinal Study of ageing (ELSA). It was supported by FAPESP via a Young Investigator Grant and a PhD scholarship.

The participants were divided into four groups based on their ELSA data for gait speed and muscle weakness (dynapenia): neither dynapenic nor abdominally obese, abdominally obese only, dynapenic only, and both dynapenic and abdominally obese. None of the participants had problems with mobility or gait speed when measurement began. Gait speed declined most in those with abdominal obesity and dynapenia in the ensuing eight years of monitoring.

According to Roberta de Oliveira Maximo, a PhD candidate in UFSCar's Graduate Program in Physiotherapy and the first author of the paper, the baseline gait speed for people in this age group without mobility restrictions was defined as 0.8 m/s (or 2.88 km/h).

"In the participants with abdominal obesity and muscle weakness, we observed a loss of 0.15 m/s in the eight-year period. At this rate there may come a time when they can't cross the street in the time allowed by traffic lights," she said.

Another study published in 2017 and based on data from a different epidemiological survey showed that 97.8 per cent of a sample of older people in the city of Sao Paulo were unable to walk fast enough to cross the street while the pedestrian signal was green.


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