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Physical function is not the same as physical fitness. Physical function is measured through factors such as walking speed, balance, and leg strength. It was these barometers and others that the researchers used to come to their conclusions.
Publishing the study in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the researchers sought to understand how physical function affects someone’s risk of experiencing a heart attack, stroke, or other form of heart disease.
In order to ascertain how much of an impact it had, they used the Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB) to measure physical function. The results were taken from a study which began in the late-1980s and continued into the mid-2010s.
Known as the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, the research involved 15,792 participants between the ages of 45 and 64 who were enrolled between the years 1987 and 1989.
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From the study, the researchers observed that those who had low physical function scores were 47 percent more likely to experience at least one cardiovascular event during their lifetime compared to those with high physical function scores.
Furthermore, those with moderate physical function scores were 25 percent more likely to experience a cardiovascular event during the same period.
Meanwhile, it was discovered that the association between physical function and heart disease risk remained after traditionally heart disease risk factors such as age, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes had been accounted for.
Study lead author Xiao Hu said: “Our findings highlight the value of assessing the physical function level of older adults in clinical practice. In addition to heart health, older adults are at higher risk for falls and disability. The assessment of physical function may also inform the risk of these concerning conditions in older adults.”
Meanwhile, senior study author Kunihiro Matsushita added: “While traditional cardiovascular disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking or diabetes are closely linked to cardiovascular disease, particularly in middle-aged people, we also know these factors may not be as predictive in older adults, so we need to identify non-traditional predictors for older adults.
“We found that physical function in older adults predicts future cardiovascular disease beyond traditional heart disease risk factors, regardless of whether an individual has a history of cardiovascular disease.”
Although the study began over 30 years ago, Matsushita says their study “adds additional evidence to past research, which has demonstrated the importance of maintaining physical function at an older age”.
Subsequently, further research is required in this field in order to better understand the impact of physical function and how people can improve it so they can reduce their risk of heart disease.
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Matsushita added: “The next questions are: what is the best way for older adults to maintain physical function, and whether interventions that improve physical function can reduce cardiovascular disease risk?”
While the study highlights the importance of physical function, like all pieces of research there are some caveats. This includes the lack of diversity among the patient cohort with only black and white patients taking part. The study is limited by the lack of participants from racial or ethnic groups.
Furthermore, the study also did not account for those who lacked mobility and would therefore have found it difficult to go to a research clinic. It is for these reasons too that additional research is required into this field.
Nevertheless, this does not make the study insignificant and adds to the immense body of research into heart disease and how people can reduce their risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event.
Heart disease can arise in a number of ways, but the most common is coronary heart disease (CHD), which occurs when fatty deposits build up in the coronary artery in the heart, a process known as atherosclerosis.
Symptoms of the condition normally include:
• Chest pain
• Shortness of breath
• Pain throughout the body
• Feeling faint
• Feeling sick.
CHD is normally diagnosed through several means including a treadmill test, a radionuclide scan, a CT scan, and MRI scan, and a coronary angiography.
Once CHD has been diagnosed, there are a variety of ways to treat it from lifestyle changes to surgery is the most severe of cases.
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