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Study: Reduced muscle strength, less mobility raise death risk in older women

Excessive weight loss and reduced muscle strength can lead to earlier death in older women, a new study has found. Photo courtesy of Max Pixel/Pixabay
Excessive weight loss and reduced muscle strength can lead to earlier death in older women, a new study has found. Photo courtesy of Max Pixel/Pixabay

Jan. 6 (UPI) -- Loss of muscle strength and reduced mobility shortens the lifespan of older women, a study published Thursday by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found.

Older women who lost 5% or more of their body weight as they aged, a possible sign of loss of muscle mass, had a 66% higher risk for early death, the data showed.

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Conversely, older women who maintained their physical strength lowered their likelihood for an earlier death by as much as 70%, the researchers said.

"Our findings support increasing efforts to improve mobility and muscle strength in older women," study co-author Dr. Lisa Underland said in a press release.

In addition, there should be "less focus on long-term weight loss in this population," said Underland, a pediatric endocrinologist at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York City.

Although research suggests that women who are overweight or obese can benefit from weight loss late in life, a concern exists that excessive weight loss could lead to a loss of muscle strength, causing physical frailty and negatively affecting mobility, studies have found.

Older women who lose muscle strength and experience declines in mobility as they age have a shorter lifespan than women

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For this study, Underland and her colleagues monitored the health of 5,039 older women for an average of nearly 5 1/2 years.

The participants, with average age of 79 years, were routinely evaluated for hand-grip strength, mobility and other aspects of physical performance, the researchers said.

Participants with higher grip strength had a 50% lower risk for earlier death, the data showed.

Those who had better lower extremity functioning had a 70% lower risk for earlier death, the researchers said.

Women who performed better on these measures also had an up to 40% lower risk for developing heart disease and an up to 10% lower risk for suffering a stroke, according to the researchers.

"Both higher physical functioning and higher grip strength were associated with lower mortality and lower risk of cardiovascular events independent of weight change," the researchers wrote.

"These findings support efforts to improve mobility and muscle strength in older women and suggest that focusing on weight loss in older women needs to be reconsidered," they said.

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