Slow gait speed at age 45 as an accelerated aging predictor–and result: Duke University study

Tracking gait not just for tracking acuity and functioning in older adults in care homes. A five-decade cohort study made of over 900 45 year-old adults in a single community–Dunedin, New Zealand–correlates slowness of gait with accelerated aging, including brain health measured as early as age 3. These markers include:

  • Decreased cortical thickness
  • Reduced brain volume
  • Poorer physical functions such as balance, hand grip, stepping, and physical-motor coordination
  • 19 biomarkers taken at ages 26, 32, 38, and 45 years including body mass index, waist-to-hip ratio, glycated hemoglobin level, leptin level, blood pressure, cholesterol, C-reactive protein level, white blood cell count, and dental health

Why this matters: the cohort study goes back to age 3. Assessed at that time by a pediatric neurologist were standardized tests of intelligence, receptive language, and motor skills; and examiner ratings of each child’s emotional and behavioral regulation. MRIs were not available for physical examination at that time and for many years after for children, but were used on the adult respondents to determine structural age-related features of the brain. 

At age 3 and later, poor scores on brain health judged from standardized tests were indicative of future slower gait and accelerated aging at 45, though the exact causality is not clear. In addition to the biomarkers and brain changes, their facial age was also older.

The study was conducted primarily by Duke University and New Zealand university researchers. The original cohort was 1037 participants (535 [51.6%] male). 997 were still alive at age 45 years, and 938 took part in the assessment at age 45 years between April 2017 and April 2019. Of the 997 still alive, 904 (90.7%; 455 [50.3%] male; 93% white) completed the gait test. Disabled (e.g. broken leg, amputation) were eliminated.

In looking back at this significant study, could a physical assessment of children’s health beyond the ordinary, with remedial work on motor skills and emotional state, stave off accelerated aging? Duke Today, JAMA Network Open, New Atlas

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