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Study shows managing CVD risk factors may help preserve physical function during aging

New research published today by The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences suggests that managing cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors may play a vital role in preserving physical function during the aging process. The study highlights that approximately 10% of older adults experience muscle weakness and diminished physical function that leads to adverse health outcomes and physical disability. As loss of physical function is a significant contributor to reduced mobility, disability, institutionalization, and mortality, managing CVD risk factors can help preserve physical function with age.

Dr. Shivani Sahni, the lead author of the study, states, “Since loss of physical function contributes to reduced mobility, disability, institutionalization, and mortality, management of CVD risk factors can help preserve physical function with age.” This study showed that vascular measures are associated with grip strength in cross-sectional analyses and change in gait speed, a measure of physical function, in longitudinal analyses.

The study, one of the first community-based research projects to comprehensively examine the relationship between aortic stiffness, vascular function, and age-related decline in physical function, found that higher aortic stiffness was associated with the loss of physical function over an 11-year period. Dr. Sahni is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and an Associate Scientist at the Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research at Hebrew SeniorLife. She directs the Nutrition Program at the Marcus Institute.

According to Dr. Sahni, blood flow declines with aging, in part due to arterial stiffening. Consequent dysfunction in blood vessel dynamics may contribute to organ pathology and declines in muscle mass. However, few studies have specifically assessed the role of vascular function and changes in functional muscle measures such as mobility and muscle strength.

The current study utilized data from a large cohort of relatively healthy men and women and extends previous investigations by utilizing a longitudinal study design. The majority of previously published studies have utilized cross-sectional study designs with modest sample sizes. The authors believe that future studies should evaluate whether interventions that target vascular health may reduce age-related declines in physical function. This is important because one-third of older adults experience physical limitations contributing to reduced mobility, disability, institutionalization, and mortality. Hence, there is a need for the development of novel interventions that target the prevention of physical limitations in older adults.

“Our study highlights the importance of cardiovascular health for physical function and suggests that management of CVD risk factors may preserve physical function with age. Future studies should evaluate whether interventions that target vascular health may reduce age-related declines in physical function,” said Dr. Sahni.

The findings of the study support the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and monitoring cardiovascular disease risk factors to preserve physical function with age. By addressing risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, individuals can help maintain their vascular health, which can in turn help preserve physical function and improve quality of life as they age.

Overall, the research shows that the management of CVD risk factors plays a critical role in preserving physical function in aging adults. By understanding the relationship between vascular measures and physical function, healthcare providers can better tailor prevention strategies to their patients and improve overall health outcomes.