Maintaining a healthy body weight throughout adulthood may help prevent or delay the onset of physical disability, according to a new study published on-line in the International Journal of Obesity. The investigators found that older adults with a history of excess weight in midlife or earlier had worse physical performance than those who were normal weight throughout adulthood or became overweight in late adulthood.
“The data suggest that interventions to prevent overweight and obesity in young and middle-age adults may be useful in preventing or delaying the onset of physical disability later in life,” said lead author Denise K. Houston, PhD, RD, of Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C.
Although the association between current obesity and physical disability is well-known, the cumulative effect is not. Researchers examined the association between weight history and physical performance in late adulthood by studying 2,803 elderly individuals (age 70 to 79 years). The body mass index (BMI) of the participants was calculated using recalled height and weight at ages 25 and 50 and measured height and weight at ages 70 to 79. A BMI of 30 or greater is considered obese and a BMI between 25 and 30 is defined as overweight.
Participants’ walking speed, walking endurance, ability to rise from a chair and balance were assessed. The researchers found that men and women who were obese at all three age points had significantly lower scores of physical performance than those who were normal weight at each age point. Women who were overweight, but not obese, at these ages also had lower performance. In addition, men and women with a history of being either overweight or obese in midlife or earlier had worse physical performance than those who didn’t become overweight or obese until late adulthood.
Houston said there are several explanations for the findings.
“Obesity may lead to joint wear and tear, reduced exercise capacity, and a higher rate of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and arthritis that can result in physical disability,” she said. “Obesity in young and middle adulthood may result in earlier onset of chronic diseases and lower physical activity, contributing to decreased muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness and greater declines in physical performance.”
“Obesity in this country is at an all-time high, putting millions at risk for disabling arthritis,” said Patience White, M.D., chief public health officer, Arthritis Foundation. “Coupled with sedentary lifestyles and an aging baby boomer population, we are facing a public health crisis if Americans don’t take action now. People of all ages need to get moving, and walking is one of the easiest, safest and most beneficial forms of physical activity for most people,” said White. “Walking as little as 30 minutes – even 10 minutes three times a day – can ease joint pain, improve mobility and reduce fatigue.”
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