NEW YORK – A new study has found that older people who develop irregular heartbeat are likely to have more age-related declines in walking speed, strength, balance and other aspects of physical performance.
The findings showed that the elderly who are suffering from atrial fibrillation — the most common type of irregular heartbeat — are especially vulnerable to losing strength, balance, gait speed and coordination.
“Particularly in older adults, we need to be mindful that the effects of atrial fibrillation (AFib or AF) go beyond increasing the risk of heart failure and stroke,” said led researcher Jared W. Magnani, assistant professor at Boston University in the US.
In atrial fibrillation, the heart’s two small upper chambers (atria) beat irregularly and too fast, this may increase the risk of stroke, heart failure and other conditions.
The results, published in journal Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology, revealed that overall participants’ physical performance declined with age.
The excess decline in physical performance in people with AFib was equivalent to an extra four years of aging.
The participants diagnosed with AFib had a significantly greater decline in physical performance tests of balance, grip strength, how far a person could walk in two minutes, and the time needed to walk 400 metres.
“Small declines in physical performance in older adults may have big consequences. The declines that we observed in participants with AFib are associated with increased frailty, which can result in loss of independence, decreased mobility, poorer quality of life, institutionalisation and death,” Magnani pointed out.
There may also be other factors, such as inflammation or accelerated muscle loss that contribute to both increased risk of AFib and declining physical performance, the researchers added.
The researchers examined physical performance at ages 70, 74, 78, and 82 in 2,753 participants (52 percent women, 41 percent African American).
The results may not apply to older adults with greater cognitive or physical limitations, as the study enrolled adults who were living independently.
In addition, these results do not prove a direct cause-and-effect link between AFib and declining physical performance, the researchers maintained.
Sleeping in on weekends may help live longer
Sleep deprivation has been found to have numerous negative effects on a person’s health. But the new study has shown that sleeping more on the weekend might help ease health problems associated with not getting enough during the week, and even reduce the risk of an early death.
The study, published in Journal of Sleep Research by scientists from Sweden and the United States, suggested that the negative effects of a few nights of short sleep could be counteracted by staying in bed over the weekend.
The from the Stress Research Institute (SRI) at Stockholm University and the Karolinska Institute discovered that people below 65 years old who slept less than five hours on weekends had a higher risk of early death after examining medical and lifestyle data from more than 43,000 adults, following them for a period of 13 years.
For people who slept for less than five hours throughout the week but slept longer on the weekends for about nine hours, there was no increase in mortality risk. But, for people who consistently slept for less than five hours through the whole week, the mortality risk is higher.
Torbjorn Akerstedt, one of the authors of the research and a clinical neuroscience professor from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, said that the findings were consistent with previous studies on the link between sleep duration and mortality.
However, those previous studies only focused on sleep during weekdays.
“The results imply that short sleep is not a risk factor for mortality if it is combined with a medium or long weekend sleep,” the researchers wrote in the study.Follow @gorkhapost