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J Am Geriatr Soc. 2005 May;53(5):762-70.

Type and intensity of activity and risk of mobility limitation: the mediating role of muscle parameters.

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Institute for Research in Extramural Medicine, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.



To investigate the association between different types of physical activity behavior and incident mobility limitation in older men and women and to examine whether muscle parameters mediate these associations.


Cohort study with 4.5-year follow-up.


Metropolitan areas surrounding Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Memphis, Tennessee. A random sample of white Medicare beneficiaries and all age-eligible blacks.


Three thousand seventy-five black and white men and women aged 70 to 79 with no self-reported difficulty walking one-quarter of a mile or climbing 10 steps, enrolled in the Health, Aging and Body Composition (Health ABC) Study.


Participants were classified as exercisers (reporting > or = 1,000 kcal/wk of exercise activity), lifestyle active (reporting < 1,000 kcal/wk of exercise activity and > or = 2,719 kcal/wk of total physical activity), or inactive (reporting < 1,000 kcal/wk of exercise activity and < 2,719 kcal/wk of total physical activity). The study outcome, incident mobility limitation, was defined as two consecutive, semiannual self-reports of any difficulty walking one quarter of a mile or climbing 10 steps. Thigh muscle area, thigh muscle attenuation (a marker of fat infiltration in muscle), appendicular lean soft tissue mass, and isokinetic knee extensor strength were examined as potential mediators.


Over 4.5 years, 34.3% of men and 47.4% of women developed mobility limitation. Inactive persons had twice the risk of incident mobility limitation as exercisers (hazard ratio (HR)=2.08, 95% confidence interval (CI)=1.60-2.70, for men, HR=1.98, 95% CI=1.51-2.60, for women). Lifestyle-active men and women had an intermediate risk (HR=1.47 and 1.44, respectively). For the lifestyle active and inactive, absence of walking activity conferred an additional risk of mobility limitation. Muscle parameters did not mediate the relationship between physical activity and mobility limitation, except for knee extensor strength in men.


Exercise and an active lifestyle that includes walking protect against mobility loss in older men and women. Activity effects on muscle parameters do not explain this association.

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