THE PROGNOSTIC ability of traditional cardiovascular disease risk factors weakens as a function of age. Consequently, there is a need to identify novel cardiovascular disease predictors among older adults. Now, a team led by Kunihiro Matsushita from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Division of Cardiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA, have 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.”
The researchers analysed data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, an ongoing prospective study designed to investigate the causes of atherosclerotic disease. Specifically, data from the fifth study visit was used as a baseline, when the Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB) was first collected. In total, 5,570 were included in the final analytic sample. Matsushita and colleagues analysed the association of SPPB with future heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and the composite of the three, adjusting for major cardiovascular disease factors.
Compared to adults with high physical function scores, those with low physical function scores were 47% more likely to experience at least one cardiovascular disease event. Further, people with intermediate SPPB scores had a 25% higher risk of having at least one cardiovascular disease event. Of note, the association between physical function and cardiovascular disease remained after controlling for traditional cardiovascular disease risk factors.
Commenting on the relevance of the results, first author Xiao Hu said: “Our findings highlight the value of assessing the physical function levels of older adults in clinical practice.” Hu added: “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.”
Matsushita also emphasised the importance of the research: “Our study adds additional evidence to past research, which has demonstrated the importance of maintaining physical function at an older age.”
Going forward, Matsushita believes that it is necessary to determine whether interventions that improve physical function can also reduce cardiovascular disease risk. Additional research is also required to confirm the findings in people who have even less physical function as well as individuals from more diverse racial and ethnic groups.