Weak muscles and abdominal fat are a dangerous combination for older people who have difficulty walking.
In a new study from the Federal University of São Carlos, researchers found a big loss of gait speed in older people with these two physical traits.
A slower gait is a natural outcome of the aging 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.
In the study, the team analyzed data for 2,294 individuals aged 60 or more who participated in the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA).
Gait speed didn’t decline so sharply in older people who had only abdominal fat or only weak muscles.
According to the team, 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 people with belly obesity and muscle weakness, they found 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.
The researchers noted that an accumulation of abdominal fat activates an intense inflammatory cascade, which consumes muscle mass and reduces strength.
Abdominal obesity was defined as a waist circumference exceeding 102 cm for men and 88 cm for women. Muscle weakness was defined as a grip strength below 26 kg for men and 16 kg for women.
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The study is published in Age and Ageing. One author of the study is Tiago da Silva Alexandre.