Physical Capability and Aging

Research published on September 10, 2010 by British Medical Journal (BMJ), Objectively Measured Physical Capability Levels and Mortality: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, re-examined a range of published studies that looked at the physical capabilities of older adults. Conducting a meta-analysis, which is a statistical method for examining multiple studies and pooling the results, researchers reviewed results from 1950-2009, evaluating how physical activities such as balancing on one leg, getting up from a chair, gripping objects, and walking speed affect older people’s lives. According to the article, “Growing evidence from single studies suggests that these objective measures of physical capability are also useful markers of current and future health.” Adding to this body of evidence, the meta-analysis found that the inability to perform basic physical tasks effectively is a predictor of mortality (article abstract).

Investigators began their project with more than 50 studies that examined physical capabilities, most on older people over 60 years of age, but they eliminated those with people in hospitals or nursing homes. Thirty-three studies, with data from more than 100,000 individuals, were eventually used in the project. Of the physical capabilities studied, the researchers found that “…grip strength was the most frequently examined measure in the published literature.”  Nineteen of the studies focused on issues associated decreasing grip strength.

After adjusting for age, sex, and body size, the researchers continually found an association between poor performance on the physical capabilities and higher risk for death. The meta-analysis report concluded, “…ultimately, randomised controlled trials will be needed to determine whether interventions aimed at improving physical capability…are effective at reducing morbidity and mortality.”

The full text of this research article is available at the BMJ site, and it is easier to read than many published medical journal articles.

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