In a first-of-its-kind study to link physical ability of men and women in their 50s with the likelihood of dying, Rachel Cooper, from University College London (United Kingdom) and colleagues warn that poor physical capacity in midlife may raise a person’s risk of premature death.
The team assessed data collected on 1,355 men and 1,411 women, all age 53 years when their fitness was measured, who were enrolled in the MRC National Survey of Health and Development in England, Scotland, and Wales. A visiting nurse assessed each participant’s ability to perform three physical tests. One test gauged hand grip strength, another evaluated a person’s ability to balance on one foot and the third noted the time it took the participant to stand up from a chair.
The researchers then followed the participants for the next 13 years, using information from the National Health Service register to find out which had died. They took into account other factors that could influence the risk of death, including smoking, body size and a history of illnesses such as heart and lung problems at age 53. With 177 deaths during the follow-up period, the data suggested that the participants who performed in the lowest one-fifth on the tests were almost four times as likely to die during follow-up as people who completed the tasks best. Those who couldn’t perform any of the tests were more than eight times as likely to die as the top performers.
Observing that: “Lower levels of physical capability at age 53 and inability to perform capability tests are associated with higher rates of mortality,” the study authors submit that: “Even at this relatively young age these measures identify groups of people who are less likely than others to achieve a long and healthy life.”
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