Older adults who gained the most fat in their thighs and lost the most thigh muscle were at the greatest risk for a clinically meaningful decline in walking speed in a Wake Forest study of more than 2,000 adults between the ages of 70 and 79.
Walking speed was assessed by measuring the usual time it took participants to complete a 20-minute walk. Subjects were then tested annually over a four-year period, said Kristen Beavers, Ph.D., an assistant visiting professor at Wake Forest University.
Beavers and colleagues at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina investigated data from the National Institute on Aging’s Health, Aging, and Body Composition study. In older adults, every 0.1-m/s slower gait speed is associated with a 12% higher mortality, the authors wrote.
Further research may include looking at ways to boost muscle and reduce fat in the thighs of seniors. “Future studies building on these findings should test whether targeted reductions in thigh intermuscular fat, augmentation of thigh muscle area, or both yield improvements in walking speed and prolonged independence for older adults,” Beavers said.