A Dangerous Combination

Study finds weak muscles and abdominal fat pose risks for older people

When a senior’s walking speed quickly declines, it can create mobility problems that make even crossing the street daunting. (Aquila Digital Assets/Shutterstock)
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By Sarah Cownley

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 suggests that these two physical traits can directly affect the loss of gait speed.

“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,” study author Tiago da Silva Alexandre said.

A slower gait is often a natural part of aging. However, mobility issues can result if 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 lead to a gradual loss of independence if the condition worsens.

The study, published in the journal Age and Aging, analyzed data from 2,294 individuals aged 60 or more who participated in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA).

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 that consumes muscle mass and reduces strength. Previous studies have also found that these common traits among the elderly are associated with 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 also help to diagnose mobility problems and their potential to incapacitate older people. Fortunately, abdominal fat and muscle weakness can be corrected by exercise training and diet.

Sarah Cownley earned a diploma in nutritional therapy from Health Sciences Academy in London, and she enjoys helping others by teaching healthy lifestyle changes through her personal consultations and with her regular contributions to the Doctors Health Press. This article was originally published on Bel Marra Health.

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