Larger waist linked to physical decline in later life, study says

Middle-aged people with a bigger waist could be storing up problems in later life, say researchers who have found a link between waist size and physical ability in older age.

A group of just over 4,500 people aged 45 or older were studied for more than 20 years, with the results showing that those with a moderately high or high waist size at the beginning of the study were 57% per likely to experience frailty compared to those with a normal waist circumference.

The frailty it refers to includes exhaustion, poor grip strength and slower walking speed.

The authors of the Norwegian study say there could be several reasons for the link, including how obesity causes more inflammation in fat cells, leading to damaged muscles fibres “resulting in reduced muscle strength and function,” says study co-author and doctoral research fellow at the University of Oslo, Shreeshti Uchai.

The study found that those with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above at the start of the study were more than twice as likely to be classed as frail compared to those with a BMI of between 18.5 to 24.9.

The authors said: “In the context where the population is rapidly ageing and the obesity epidemic is rising, growing evidence recognises the subgroup of ‘fat and frail’ older individuals in contrast to viewing frailty only as a wasting disorder.”

People are advised that to stay healthy and strong, they should regularly do aerobics and strength exercises.

Dr William Roberts, a professor in family medicine and community health at the University of Minnesota Medical School, said both aerobics and strength exercises “appear to work together and help each other move toward better outcomes”.

He added: “A balanced program of strength and aerobic activity is probably best and probably more closely mimics the activities of our ancestors, which helped determine our current gene sets.”

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