Weak muscles and abdominal fat can be a dangerous combination for older adults who have difficulty walking. A new study from the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar) suggests that these two physical traits can directly affect the loss of gait speed.
Study author, Tiago da Silva Alexandre, explained her research saying,
“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.”
A slower gait is often a natural part of aging. However, mobility issues can result if the walking speed falls quickly. This can increase the risk for seniors in daily activities such as crossing the street. A slow gait can also increase the risk of falling and a gradual loss of independence if the condition worsens.
The study, published in the journal Age and Aging, analyzed data for 2,294 individuals aged 60 or more who participated in the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA).
All participants were divided into four groups based on their ELSA data for gait speed and muscle weakness (dynapenia). The groups were: neither dynapenic nor abdominally obese; abdominally obese only; dynapenic only, and both dynapenic and abdominally obese.
At the beginning of the study, none of the participants had problems with mobility or gait speed. However, in the eight years of monitoring, gait speed declined in most participants who had abdominal obesity.
According to Roberta de Oliveira Máximo, the first author of the paper, “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.”
Inflammation Caused by Abdominal Fat
The researchers noted that an accumulation of abdominal fat could create inflammation which consumes muscle mass and reduces strength. Previous studies have also found that these common traits among the elderly have a heightened risk of falls, changes in carbohydrates, glucose, and cholesterol metabolism, and even death. However, this is the first study to link the traits with mobility.
This study can help health care workers to understand that measuring abdominal fat and muscle strength while in a clinic or hospital can help predict a loss of gait speed in their patients.
It can help to diagnose mobility problems and their potential incapacity in older people. Fortunately, both of these traits can be corrected by exercise training and diet.