Thigh fat may be to blame for older adults who slow down

February 19, 2013, Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center

(Medical Xpress)—A new study from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center shows that an increase in fat throughout the thigh is predictive of mobility loss in otherwise healthy older adults.

Lead author Kristen Beavers, Ph.D., and colleagues at Wake Forest Baptist said the findings suggest that prevention of age-related declines in walking speed isn't just about preserving , it's also about preventing gain.

Walking speed declines with age, said Beavers, and in older adults slower walking speed is a predictor of disability, nursing home admission and even death. As such, she believes that walking speed represents an important, and potentially modifiable, predictor of independent living for older adults. Unfortunately, said Beavers, not much is known about what precedes this decline, although change in body composition seemed like a reasonable place to start the research. "As people age, they are more likely to gain fat in and around their muscles, and we speculated that gaining fat in the leg itself would be related to slowed walking speed."

The researchers used data from the National Institute on Aging's Health, Aging, and Body Composition (Health ABC) study, a prospective cohort of several thousand initially well-functioning white and black adults aged 70-79. They looked at how changes in fat and lean mass affected walking speed, and were specifically interested in whether changes in thigh intermuscular fat or thigh muscle area were more predictive of slowed walking speed.

A study sample of 2,306 men and women was reviewed, with a mean age of 74.6 years. Walking speed was assessed by measuring the usual time it took participants to complete a 20-minute walk, and they were tested annually over a four-year period. Body composition measures were assessed via computed tomography (CT).

Results, published online ahead of print in the , found both increasing thigh intermuscular fat and decreasing thigh muscle area to be significant, independent predictors of walking speed decline. Importantly, said Beavers, older adults who gained the most thigh fat and lost the most thigh muscle were at greatest risk of experiencing a clinically meaningful decline in walking speed.

Beavers said this study is the first of its kind to address the independent association between changes in sophisticated measures of and walking speed. "As the burden of disability becomes increasingly common and expensive, identification of modifiable contributors to functional decline in older adults is emerging as a significant priority of public health research," Beavers said. "Future studies building on these findings should test whether targeted reductions in thigh intermuscular fat, augmentation of thigh muscle area, or both yield improvements in and prolonged independence for older adults."

Explore further: Lower limb muscle limitations hamper walking in diabetes

Related Stories

Lower limb muscle limitations hamper walking in diabetes

May 30, 2012
(HealthDay) -- In older adults, diabetes correlates with slower walking speed, and diabetes-linked reductions in muscle strength and worse muscle quality contribute to these walking limitations, according to a study published ...

Thigh muscle density linked to physical functioning in RA

August 3, 2012
(HealthDay) -- Thigh muscle density (TMD), as derived from computed tomography (CT), appears to be a strong indicator of physical functioning and disability in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients, according to a study published ...

Protein preserves muscle and physical function in dieting postmenopausal women

August 10, 2011
Dieting postmenopausal women who want to avoid losing muscle as they lose fat should pay attention to a new University of Illinois study. Adding protein throughout the day not only holds hunger pangs at bay so that dieters ...

Walking speed is a marker for knee osteoarthritis

March 20, 2012
(HealthDay) -- Slower walking speed may be a marker for identifying those at risk for knee osteoarthritis (OA), according to a study published online March 5 in Arthritis Care & Research.

Keeping pace: Walking speed may signal thinking problems ahead

June 11, 2012
A new study shows that changes in walking speed in late life may signal the early stages of dementia known as mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The research is published in the June 12, 2012, print issue of Neurology, the ...

Recommended for you

Women run faster after taking newly developed supplement, study finds

January 19, 2018
A new study found that women who took a specially prepared blend of minerals and nutrients for a month saw their 3-mile run times drop by almost a minute.

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.