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White-Matter Changes Linked to Physical Abilities

Older subjects with milder changes showed better scores in gait, balance and walking speed

FRIDAY, March 21 (HealthDay News) -- Age-related changes in cerebral white matter are strongly associated with gait and motor deficits, according to research published in the March 18 issue of Neurology.

Hansjoerg Baezner, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Heidelberg in Mannheim, Germany, and colleagues analyzed data from 639 non-disabled adults, aged 65 to 84, in a cross-sectional analysis. Motor performance was measured with tests including the Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB), single leg stance time, and timed walk. Age-related white matter changes (ARWMC) were rated using MRI.

The investigators found that severity of ARWMC was correlated with deficiencies in gait, balance and walking speed; those with mild ARWMC performed better in all these measures than those with moderate or severe changes. Subjects who were physically inactive -- those who did less than 30 minutes of activity on at least three days of the week -- were more likely to have a pathologic score on the SPPB, defined as score values of 10 or below, compared to normal scores of 11 or 12.

"A clear association with better scores in SPPB was noted in individuals who regularly did physical exercise," the authors write. "Because physical exercise is associated with better results in gait and balance testing independent from other measures interfering with gait and balance, it is conceivable that exercise could have a protective effect in delaying transition to disability. This hypothesis is currently being addressed in our longitudinal study."

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