Senior walking outside
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A recent study published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society found a link between midlife inflammation and late-life mobility challenges. Part of the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities project, the research included 4,758 community-dwelling participants whose inflammation levels were measured over 20 years.

Participants, 41% men and 20% Black individuals, who had elevated midlife inflammation levels, or high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP) levels, had a 4.6 cm/s slower gait speed later in life compared to those with lower levels. Notably, consistently high hsCRP levels over a 20-year period were associated with a significantly slower gait speed among those who never experienced obesity, diabetes, or hypertension during that time. This finding suggests that inflammation alone, even in the absence of other chronic conditions, can contribute to a clinically meaningful decline in mobility for senior adults.

The study did note, however, that chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension increased the impact of high inflammation, as these diseases can further reduce the ability to stay mobile later in life.  

The associations between midlife inflammation and late-life gait speed were generally consistent across Black and White participants, though with some variation in the point estimates, indicating that the impact of inflammation on mobility is consistent across races. However, socioeconomic disadvantages, as measured by factors like area deprivation index, education, and income, were associated with higher inflammation and a slower gait speed in both Black and White participants.

The study highlights the importance of regular and earlier monitoring and interventions for inflammation, as it may contribute to declines in mobility and physical function in later years, regardless of race or the presence of other chronic health conditions.

“These findings suggest that monitoring inflammation has the potential to be important for late life health, similar to monitoring routine health metrics such as blood pressure and glucose,” said corresponding author B. Gwen Windham, MD, MHS.