The Relationship of Cardiovascular Disease to Physical Functioning in Women Surviving to Age 80 and Above in the Women's Health Initiative

Published in: The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, v.71, no. 1, 2016, p. S42-S53

by Marcia L. Stefanick, Robert L. Brunner, X. Leng, Marian C. Limacher, Chloe E. Bird, David O. Garcia, Patricia E. Hogan, Michael J. Lamonte, Rachel H. Mackey, Karen C. Johnson, et al.

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BACKGROUND: Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is highly prevalent at ages 80 and above. The association of physical functioning (PF), a key to an optimal aging trajectory, with CVD and specific CVD diagnosis in women who survive to age 80 and above has not been described previously and has important public health significance given our aging population. METHODS: Women's Health Initiative participants aged 80 years or older at the time of self-reporting PF (RAND SF-36) were studied in relationship to CVD diagnosis, whether present at study baseline (1993–1998) or diagnosed during follow-up through 2012. Cross-sectional analyses utilized demographic, medical, lifestyle, and psycho-social questionnaire data from baseline or updated at the time of self-reported PF. RESULTS: Among 27,145 older Women's Health Initiative participants, 22.0% (N = 5,959) had been diagnosed with CVD, specifically: 11.3% (N = 3,071) with coronary heart disease; 4.7% (N = 1,279), stroke; 5.2% (N = 1,397), venous thromboembolism; 2.7% (N = 737), peripheral arterial disease; and 2.7% (N = 725), congestive heart failure. PF scores (mean ± SE) were significantly (p < .0001) higher without CVD (60.0±26.9), compared with any CVD (47.9±27.3), and for each specific CVD diagnosis: coronary heart disease (48.8±27.1); stroke (44.8±27.9); venous thromboembolism (48.9±27.4); peripheral arterial disease (41.9±2.2); and congestive heart failure (38.8±26.1). Regardless of CVD diagnosis, higher PF was associated with: younger age at the time of PF assessment; lower body mass index; higher recreational physical activity; better self-reported general health; fewer hip fractures after age 55; no history of arthritis; and no recent use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. CONCLUSIONS: Older women with any CVD, and particularly women with congestive heart failure or peripheral arterial disease, reported significantly lower PF compared to women with no CVD. Regardless of CVD diagnosis, higher PF was strongly associated with a more active lifestyle and lower body mass index, suggesting potential intervention targets for more optimal aging.

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