New research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association has linked lower physical function among older adults with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack, stroke, and heart failure.
The study included over 5,500 participants with a mean age of 75 years who were part of the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study. Their physical function was measured using the Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB), a physical function test that includes balance, leg strength, and walking speed. Physical function is unique from physical fitness and represents the ability to perform the basic activities of daily living; reduced physical function is common with aging. The participants were grouped into low, intermediate, and high physical function groups based on their SPPB scores. The participants were followed up with for a median of 7 years, and associations between SPPB scores and risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart failure were examined.
Overall, older adults with low physical function were 47% more likely to experience one of the cardiovascular disease events (heart attack, stroke, or heart failure) than those with high physical function. Those with intermediate physical function were 25% more likely to experience an event than those with high physical function. These associations were independent of other common risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as age, blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes status.
The authors noted that their results emphasize the importance of maintaining physical function as we age. High physical function lowers the risk of falls, which can be risky for older adults, and these results show that high physical function is also important for heart health. One of the best ways to maintain and improve physical function as we age is to stay physically active and perform regular physical activity, especially muscle strengthening and balance exercises.