Researchers have found a link between high blood pressure and a greater drop in average walking speeds in older adults, according to results from a new National Institutes of Health-funded study. Further, the drop seems to occur even in study participants whose high blood pressure is successfully treated.
The study examined the role of brain, heart, and kidney function in changes in seniors' walking speeds over 14 years. Participating seniors, with an average age of 76 at the start of the study, who had high blood pressure, saw their average walking speeds decline 0.2 miles per hour more than seniors who did not have high blood pressure.
Of the 643 participants in the study, 350 did not have high blood pressure, while 293 had undiagnosed hypertension or were taking medication for the condition. The study's participants with hypertension were split into 3 groups: those who were undiagnosed before the study began; those who were diagnosed and were able to control the condition; those who were diagnosed and were unable to control the condition.
The researchers measured how long it took participants to walk a 15-foot course, starting from a standing position. At the start of the study, the average walking speed was 2.2 mph. While everyone who participated in the follow-up period walked slower, speeds decreased more steeply among all hypertension groups by about 10%.
Lead researcher Caterina Rosano, MD, says further investigation is needed to better understand the physical link between high blood pressure and the steep decline in walking speeds. Researchers thought that brain, kidney, or heart problems might account for the slowing, but magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans of study participants showed no visible problems with blood vessels in the brain, and kidney and heart function also appeared normal.
The study is published in the March edition of the Journal of the American Geriatric Society.