Relationships of cardiac, pulmonary, and muscle reserves and frailty to exercise capacity in older women

Carlos Orval Weiss, Helen H. Hoenig, Ravi Varadhan, Eleanor M. Simonsick, Linda P. Fried

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BackgroundA decline in exercise capacity (EC) is a characteristic of frailty. We hypothesized that decline is the effect of decrements in several physiological systems. We assessed whether the relationship of three main physiological systems-cardiac, pulmonary, and musculoskeletal-to EC is independent or interactive and whether their effect on EC varies with respect to frailty status.MethodsObservational study of 547 disabled women aged 65 years and older (Women's Health and Aging Study I) including 131 frail who participated in a test of EC. EC (seated step test), cardiac function (chronotropic index), pulmonary function (forced vital capacity, FVC), musculoskeletal function (quadriceps strength, QS), and frailty status were measured and interactive effects were modeled using linear regression and differentiation.ResultsEach physiological system had a direct relationship with EC, which was lower in frail compared with nonfrail. The relationship between FVC and EC was positive and increased with increasing QS in nonfrail subjects. The effect of QS on EC was positive and increased with increasing FVC regardless of frailty. In subjects with low QS, frailty status was associated with lower EC and this effect became stronger with increasing FVC.DiscussionFindings suggest but do not show that frailty status modifies the effects of physiological function in several systems on EC. Approaches to understanding emergent properties such as vulnerability to illness and death and clinical efforts to prevent and treat frailty should evaluate and possibly intervene on several physiological systems to be maximally effective.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)287-294
Number of pages8
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series A Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences
Volume65 A
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2010


  • Exercise capacity
  • Frailty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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