Good physical functioning tied to lower stroke risk
By Amy Norton
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Middle-aged and older adults who manage to stay agile may be less likely to suffer a stroke than their less-nimble peers, researchers reported Monday.
In a study of more than 13,000 men and women, British researchers found that those who reported good physical functioning at the study's start -- having little problem climbing stairs or carrying groceries, for instance -- were less likely to have a stroke over the next seven years.
The findings suggest that measures of physical functioning could help identify "apparently healthy" people who are at increased risk of stroke, the researchers report in the journal Neurology.
The study included 13,615 adults who were between the ages of 40 and 79 at the outset. They each underwent a routine physical exam, answered questions on their lifestyle habits and completed a standard questionnaire on health-related quality of life.
Part of that questionnaire focused on physical functioning -- how well each person was able to perform daily activities like climbing stairs, carrying groceries, kneeling, bending and lifting.
In general, the study found, the better the score on the physical functioning measure, the lower the risk of suffering stroke over the next 7.5 years. For each 10-point increase in the physical functioning score, the risk of having stroke fell by about one-quarter, on average. The benefit was slightly greater than that among women, and somewhat lesser among men.
The researchers took into account "classical" risk factors for stroke -- such as smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes and being overweight -- but poorer physical functioning itself remained a risk for stroke.
It's possible that physical functioning is indicative of general health, and may capture "subtle or sub-clinical" health problems that can put some people at greater stroke risk, Dr. Phyo K. Myint, the lead researcher on the study, told Reuters Health
"It is also possible that better physical functioning may reflect a healthier lifestyle, which may be protective for stroke," explained Myint, a research associate at the University of Cambridge in the UK.
In past research, Myint noted, he and his colleagues have found that people who do not smoke, get regular exercise and drink moderate amounts of alcohol tend to have better physical functioning.
For this study, the researchers assessed physical functioning with a 36-item questionnaire that is commonly used in the research setting, but not in doctors' offices, Myint pointed out.
However, he added, it might be possible to weed out the items most closely linked to stroke risk -- which could then give doctors a quick, simple tool to help spot at-risk patients.
SOURCE: Neurology, December 11, 2007.