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Walking speed provides insight into oral health, study finds

By Dental Tribune International
October 29, 2019

DURHAM, N.C., U.S.: In a recent study, researchers from Duke University in Durham have found that the walking speed of 45-year-olds can reveal a considerable amount about their teeth, lungs, immune system and brains. In the five-decadelong cohort study, researchers collected data from nearly 1,000 participants from the age of 3 in order to establish whether they could find corresponding neurocognitive data to indicate who would become slow walkers later in life and what this might mean in regard to general health.

Gait speed is usually used to measure the health of older patients, and this recent study has shown that there are biomarkers that may indicate the health and well-being of patients from a much earlier age.

According to the researchers, the neurocognitive testing that the study’s participants undertook at age 3 included an IQ test and tests of language understanding, frustration tolerance, motor skills and emotional control. This testing proved very good at predicting who would become a slower walker later in life. Over the course of five decades, participants of the study were then tested 13 times. The last round of data collection took place between April 2017 and April 2019. From the data gathered, the researchers were able to show that the slower walkers had signs of accelerated aging when it came to aspects like teeth, lungs and immune system compared with the people who walked faster.

“The thing that’s really striking is that this is in 45-year-old people, not the geriatric patients who are usually assessed with such measures,” said lead researcher Dr. Line J.H. Rasmussen, a postdoctoral researcher at Duke University’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience.

In addition, MRI scans that were taken toward the end of the study showed that the slower walkers tended to have lower total brain volume, lower mean cortical thickness, less brain surface area and a higher incidence of white matter hyperintensities.

The researchers acknowledged that lifestyle choices may have caused some of the differences in health and cognition, but said that they believed that the study still provided valuable biomarkers to see who was likely to do better health-wise later in life.

The study, titled “Association of neurocognitive and physical function with gait speed in midlife,” was published on Oct. 11, 2019, in JAMA Network Open.

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