Nav: Home

Slower walkers have older brains and bodies at 45

October 11, 2019

DURHAM, N.C. -- The walking speed of 45-year-olds, particularly their fastest walking speed without running, can be used as a marker of their aging brains and bodies.

Slower walkers were shown to have "accelerated aging" on a 19-measure scale devised by researchers, and their lungs, teeth and immune systems tended to be in worse shape than the people who walked faster.

"The thing that's really striking is that this is in 45-year-old people, not the geriatric patients who are usually assessed with such measures," said lead researcher Line J.H. Rasmussen, a post-doctoral researcher in the Duke University department of psychology & neuroscience.

Equally striking, neurocognitive testing that these individuals took as children could predict who would become the slower walkers. At age 3, their scores on IQ, understanding language, frustration tolerance, motor skills and emotional control predicted their walking speed at age 45.

"Doctors know that slow walkers in their seventies and eighties tend to die sooner than fast walkers their same age," said senior author Terrie E. Moffitt, the Nannerl O. Keohane University Professor of Psychology at Duke University, and Professor of Social Development at King's College London. "But this study covered the period from the preschool years to midlife, and found that a slow walk is a problem sign decades before old age."

The data come from a long-term study of nearly 1,000 people who were born during a single year in Dunedin, New Zealand. The 904 research participants in the current study have been tested, quizzed and measured their entire lives, mostly recently from April 2017 to April 2019 at age 45.

The study appears Oct. 11 in JAMA Network Open.

MRI exams during their last assessment showed the slower walkers tended to have lower total brain volume, lower mean cortical thickness, less brain surface area and higher incidence of white matter "hyperintensities," small lesions associated with small vessel disease of the brain. In short, their brains appeared somewhat older.

Adding insult to injury perhaps, the slower walkers also looked older to a panel of eight screeners who assessed each participant's 'facial age' from a photograph.

Gait speed has long been used as a measure of health and aging in geriatric patients, but what's new in this study is the relative youth of these study subjects and the ability to see how walking speed matches up with health measures the study has collected during their lives.

"It's a shame we don't have gait speed and brain imaging for them as children," Rasmussen said. (The MRI was invented when they were five, but was not given to children for many years after.)

Some of the differences in health and cognition may be tied to lifestyle choices these individuals have made. But the study also suggests that there are already signs in early life of who would become the slowest walkers, Rasmussen said. "We may have a chance here to see who's going to do better health-wise in later life."
-end-
This research was supported by grants the US National Institute on Aging (AG032282, AG049789, AG028716), the UK Medical Research Council (MR/P005918/1), the Jacobs Foundation, the New Zealand Health Research Council (16-604), the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, the Lundbeck Foundation (R288-2018-380), the US National Science Foundation (NSF DGE-1644868), the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (T32-HD007376).

CITATION: "Association of Neurocognitive and Physical Function With Gait Speed in Midlife," Line Rasmussen, Avshalom Caspi, Anthony Ambler, et al. .JAMA Network Open, Oct. 11, 2019. DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.13123

Duke University

Related Aging Articles:

Researchers discover new cause of cell aging
New research from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering could be key to our understanding of how the aging process works.
Deep Aging Clocks: The emergence of AI-based biomarkers of aging and longevity
The advent of deep biomarkers of aging, longevity and mortality presents a range of non-obvious applications.
Intelligence can link to health and aging
For over 100 years, scientists have sought to understand what links a person's general intelligence, health and aging.
Putting the brakes on aging
Salk Institute researchers have developed a new gene therapy to help decelerate the aging process.
New insights into the aging brain
A group of scientists at the Gladstone Institutes investigated why the choroid plexus contains so much more klotho than other brain regions.
We all want 'healthy aging,' but what is it, really? New report looks for answers
Led by Paul Mulhausen, MD, MHS, FACP, AGSF, colleagues from the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) set looking critically at what 'healthy aging' really means.
New insight into aging
Researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (The Neuro) of McGill University examined the effects of aging on neuroplasticity in the primary auditory cortex, the part of the brain that processes auditory information.
Aging may be as old as life itself
Aging has had a bad rap since it has long been considered a consequence of biology's concentrated effort on enhancing survival through reproductivity.
A new link between cancer and aging
Human lung cancer cells resist dying by controlling parts of the aging process, according to findings published online May 10th in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
American Federation for Aging Research experts featured in PBS special: Incredible Aging
Fourteen AFAR experts are among those featured in
More Aging News and Aging Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#538 Nobels and Astrophysics
This week we start with this year's physics Nobel Prize awarded to Jim Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz and finish with a discussion of the Nobel Prizes as a way to award and highlight important science. Are they still relevant? When science breakthroughs are built on the backs of hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of people's hard work, how do you pick just three to highlight? Join host Rachelle Saunders and astrophysicist, author, and science communicator Ethan Siegel for their chat about astrophysics and Nobel Prizes.