We expect to slow down as we age, but a slower gait is linked to greater risk of deadly disease. So, understanding what causes that slow-down is worth investigating. Is it because we’re not exercising as vigorously? Do we slow down because we’re losing muscle or because we’re gaining weight? It turns out the answers are partially dependent on whether you’re male or female. Their bodies handle fat and muscle a little differently, as many women have known for years.
The Location of Fat Can Be Important
Obesity has been linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and more. Of course, your weight also impacts your mobility. Research shows there’s actually a difference in how fat impedes walking speed for men and women.
Researchers used data collected from 2,306 older adults participating in the Health, Aging, and Body Composition cohort for four years. The group was equally divided between men and women. Over the four-year study, gait speed did decline for both. And, baseline thigh intermuscular fat was found to predict a decline in annual walking speed for both men and women. For men, though, the decline in walking speed was independent of their total body fat. It was just thigh intermuscular fat and total thigh muscle that predicted decline in gait speed for them.
The researchers concluded that increasing thigh intermuscular fat can quite literally slow you down. When fat infiltrates muscle, the risk of mobility problems increase. However, they also found that a decrease in thigh muscle area was also indicative of reduced walking speed.
Managing Weight Has Many Benefits
Whether you’re worried about chronic disease or loss of mobility, keeping your weight down to recommended levels can help. And, exercises, like lifting weights, do more than increase muscle strength. That actually increases your metabolism, which helps your body burn more fat. Weight lifting also makes your bones stronger to help with osteoporosis. The most important factor in controlling body fat percentage (and thus thigh intermuscular fat) is diet. I recommend a “Paleo” style diet as the most effective way to stay lean.