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Health Capsules
June 2006
Ability to Walk May Foretell Future

Exercise tests can be used to predict a person’s risk of heart disease and mortality. But for certain older adults, traditional tests may be too rigorous. A new study shows that a simple extended walking test can be an effective method for older adults.

The researchers, supported by a grant from NIH, enrolled 3,075 people between 70 and 79 years old living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Memphis, Tennessee. Some people were excluded from the test for medical safety. Those who participated were asked to walk a quarter of a mile in a hallway (10 laps). They were told, “Walk as quickly as you can, without running, at a pace you can maintain.” They had a 2-minute warm-up, and were given encouragement at each lap. Of the 2,680 eligible for the test, 86% completed the full distance while 13% couldn’t.

The researchers found that people who were excluded from the walking test or couldn’t complete it had higher rates of mortality, heart disease and mobility limitations or disabilities about 5 years later. Among those able to complete the test, each minute longer it took them to finish was associated with a 29% higher rate of mortality, a 20% higher rate of heart disease and a 52% higher rate of mobility problems.

The study shows that, in apparently well-functioning older adults, a relatively simple test can expose a wide range of function and health risk. It highlights how important fitness is for older adults. Staying physically active into your 70s raises your chance of living a longer, healthier life into your 80s.

Links iconWeb Sites

Exercise: A Guide from the National Institute on Aging: Publications/ExerciseGuide

Getting Fit For Life: exercise.asp

  Stroke: Know the Signs, Act in Time  

Stroke is the nation’s number 3 killer and the leading cause of long-term disability. More than 700,000 Americans will suffer a stroke this year.

In treating a stroke, every minute counts. New treatments are available that greatly reduce the damage caused by one. But you need to arrive at the hospital as soon as possible after symptoms start.

Many people don’t know the symptoms of stroke or what to do when they see someone having one. Knowing the symptoms of a stroke and getting to the hospital quickly can help you act in time to save yourself—or someone you know—from serious long-term disability.

A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted. Brain cells die when they’re deprived of the oxygen and nutrients provided by blood. Because stroke injures the brain, if you’re having a stroke, you may not realize what’s happening. But to a bystander, the signs of a stroke are distinct:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg
    (especially on one side of the body)
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness or loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

If you see someone with these symptoms, get help immediately.

Making changes in your lifestyle can help prevent stroke. Factors that increase your risk of having a stroke include high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, physical inactivity and being overweight.

NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke is dedicated to research and education about the causes, treatments and prevention of stroke. Talk to your doctor to find out your risks and take action now to prevent stroke.

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Keep informed about research accomplishments by NIH and NIH-funded scientists. Brief, accessible stories describe research results and put them in perspective. The site also has instructions for how to subscribe to an RSS feed to get automatic updates whenever new stories are posted.

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