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Research news: Coronary calcium together with lower physical capacity multiply the risk of health decline

High coronary artery calcium (CAC) together with slow walking speed multiplies the risk of mortality, reveals a new study published in the International Journal of Cardiology.

Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and also a common cause of sudden death – heart attack often being the first sign of the disease.

“In the study, high coronary artery calcium and slow walking speed were found to increase mortality as separate risk factors. Moreover, in the follow-up we found that together these factors multiplied the risk of mortality,” says Dr. Mikaela von Bonsdorff from the University of Jyväskylä.

The participants in the study were on average 76 years old individuals who were free from coronary heart disease in the beginning of the study. They were followed up for 5.5 years. Coronary artery calcium was measured with a computed tomography. Habitual walking speed was measured at the research laboratory.

“Normal walking speed is a good indicator of physical capacity among older people. With a simple walking test, it is possible to identify individuals who are at an increased risk of health decline,” says von Bonsdorff.

Subclinical coronary atherosclerosis, indicated by high CAC, might originate in as early as infancy. It is a slowly progressing disease in which cholesterol plaques form in the vessels that supply blood to the heart muscle causing decreased blood flow in the narrowing coronary arteries.

“The present findings show that improving physical functioning may lower the risk of health decline caused by subclinical coronary atherosclerosis,” says von Bonsdorff who worked at the National Institute on Aging, NIH, US analysing an Icelandic dataset.

In the Age, Gene/Environment Susceptibility – Reykjavik (AGES-Reykjavik) Study over 4,000 Icelanders born between 1907 and 1935 were investigated in midlife and again in old age. Mortality data from the national mortality register were linked to the study. The international study group included researchers from Finland, the US, Iceland and the Netherlands.

For further information, please contact:

Dr. Mikaela von Bonsdorff, Gerontology Research Center and Department of Health Sciences, University of Jyväskylä, Finland, tel: +358 400 342 692,,

Original publication:

von Bonsdorff MB, Groffen D, Vidal JS, Rantanen T, Aspelund T, Garcia M, Eiriksdottir G, Sigeirsdottir K, Launer L, Gudnason V, Harris TB for the AGES-Reykjavik Study Group. Coronary artery calcium and physical performance as determinants of mortality in old age: the AGES-Reykjavik Study. International Journal of Cardiology, DOI: 10.1016/j.ijcard.2013.01.067.

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