Background: measures of physical capability may be predictive of subsequent health, but existing published studies have not been systematically reviewed. We hypothesised that weaker grip strength, slower walking speed and chair rising and shorter standing balance time, in community-dwelling populations, would be associated with higher subsequent risk of fracture, cognitive outcomes, cardiovascular disease, hospitalisation and institutionalisation.
Methods: studies were identified through systematic searches of the electronic databases MEDLINE and EMBASE (to May 2009). Reference lists of eligible papers were also manually searched.
Results: twenty-four papers had examined the associations between at least one physical capability measure and one of the outcomes. As the physical capability measures and outcomes had been assessed and categorised in different ways in different studies, and there were differences in the potential confounding factors taken into account, this made it impossible to pool results. There were more studies examining fractures than other outcomes, and grip strength and walking speed were the most commonly examined capability measures. Most studies found that weaker grip strength and slower walking speed were associated with increased risk of future fractures and cognitive decline, but residual confounding may explain results in some studies. Associations between physical capability levels and the other specified outcomes have not been tested widely.
Conclusions: there is some evidence to suggest that objective measures of physical capability may be predictors of subsequent health in older community-dwelling populations. Most hypothesised associations have not been studied sufficiently to draw definitive conclusions suggesting the need for further research.