Wednesday, March 16, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- High blood pressure is associated with a steeper drop in the average walking speeds of seniors, a new study finds.
Major decreases in walking speed can affect a senior's ability to remain independent and indicate possible health problems; it may also predict who will develop dementia or disabilities, the researchers said.
They tracked the walking speeds of 643 seniors over 14 years. The participants, who were 76 at the start of the study, included 350 without high blood pressure and 293 who had undiagnosed hypertension or were taking medication for the condition.
The participants were divided into three groups: those without hypertension, those whose hypertension was diagnosed and under control; and those who were diagnosed and whose hypertension was not under control.
At the start of the study, the participants' average walking speed was 2.2 mph. During the follow-up, the walking speed of those in the two high blood pressure groups decreased 0.2 miles per hour more than those without high blood pressure -- a 10 percent decline.
The decline in walking speed seemed to occur even among those whose high blood pressure was successfully treated, said Dr. Caterina Rosano, of the University of Pittsburgh, and colleagues.
Further research is needed to learn more about the link between high blood pressure and the sharp drop in walking speeds, she added.
The study, published in the March issue of the Journal of the American Geriatric Society, received funding from the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health.
"The findings from this study suggest an additional reason to stress prevention of high blood pressure," NHLBI Acting Director Dr. Susan B. Shurin said in an institute news release. "Even with medications to treat high blood pressure in older adults, it appears that the condition might be linked to a serious decline in average walking speed. As the mobility of seniors declines, there is an increased risk for falls."
The AGS Foundation for Health in Aging has more about walking problems.