Extended walking speed is a predictor of incident cardiovascular disease (CVD) in older individuals, but the ability of an objective short-distance walking speed test to stratify the severity of preclinical conditions remains unclear. This study examined whether performance in an 8-ft walking speed test is associated with metabolic risk factors and subclinical atherosclerosis.
530 adults (aged 63±6 years, 50.3% male) from the Whitehall II cohort study with no known history or objective signs of CVD.
Electron beam computed tomography and ultrasound was used to assess the presence and extent of coronary artery calcification (CAC) and carotid intima-media thickness (IMT), respectively.
High levels of CAC (Agatston score >100) were detected in 24% of the sample; the mean IMT was 0.75 mm (SD 0.15). Participants with no detectable CAC completed the walking course 0.16 s (95% CI 0.04 to 0.28) faster than those with CAC ≥400. Objectively assessed, but not self-reported, faster walking speed was associated with a lower risk of high CAC (odds ratio 0.62, 95% CI 0.40 to 0.96) and lower IMT (β=−0.04, 95% CI −0.01 to −0.07 mm) in comparison with the slowest walkers (bottom third), after adjusting for conventional risk factors. Faster walking speed was also associated with lower adiposity, C-reactive protein and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol.
Short-distance walking speed is associated with metabolic risk and subclinical atherosclerosis in older adults without overt CVD. These data suggest that a non-aerobically challenging walking test reflects the presence of underlying vascular disease.