Decline in Vascular Function Correlates with Decline in Physical Function
The vasculature becomes increasingly dysfunctional with age in a number of different ways, from loss of capillary density to tissue stiffening and issues with smooth muscle function that lead to raised blood pressure, as well as the development of endothelial inflammation and atherosclerotic lesions that lead to heart attack or stroke. It isn't surprising to find that even simple measures of vascular aging, such as raised blood pressure, correlate fairly well with other aspects of aging, such as declines in physical function.
Approximately 10% of older adults have muscle weakness and diminished physical function that leads to adverse health outcomes and physical disability. A new study showed that vascular measures are associated with grip strength in cross-sectional analyses and change in gait speed (a measure of physical function) in longitudinal analyses. This is one of the first community-based studies to comprehensively examine relations of aortic stiffness and vascular function with age-related decline in physical function. Higher aortic stiffness was associated with loss of physical function over ~11 years.
Blood flow declines with aging, in part due to arterial stiffening. Consequent dysfunction in blood vessel dynamics may contribute to organ pathology and declines in muscle mass. The current study utilized data from a large cohort of 2,498 relatively healthy men and women and extends previous investigations by utilizing a longitudinal study design. The majority of previously published studies have utilized cross-sectional study designs with modest sample sizes. The authors believe that future studies should evaluate whether interventions that target vascular health may reduce age-related declines in physical function.