Racial differences in muscle strength in disabled older women

Taina Rantanen, Jack M. Guralnik, Suzanne Leveille, Grant Izmirlian, Rosemarie Hirsch, Eleanor Simonsick, Shari Ling, Linda P. Fried

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study examines racial differences in muscle strength, and associations of muscle strength to level of PhYSical activity and severity of disability, among a community sample of 254 black and 665 white, moderately to severely disabled women aged 65 and older. Potential confounders that were adjusted for in the models included age, body weight and height, joint pain, number of chronic conditions, and socioeconomic status. Hand grip, hip flexion, and knee extension forces were measured using portable hand-held dynamometers in the participants' homes. Hand grip strength was measured as the maximal isometric force. Hip flexion and knee extension forces were measured as the greatest force the tester had to apply to break the isometric contraction. A declining strength gradient was observed with increasing severity of disability and for decreasing level of physical activity in both races. At equal levels of disability or physical activity, blacks had better hand grip and hip flexion strength, but knee extension strength did not differ by race. The greater hand grip and hip flexion strength found in black women may be related to their greater muscle mass and known racial differences in body dimensions. No consistent racial differences were observed in the relationship between physical activity and muscle strength, or muscle strength and disability, suggesting that the role of muscle strength in the disablement process does not differ between races. Physical activity and exercise programs may be feasible ways to prevent worsening of disability in blacks and whites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)B355-B361
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series A Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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