Walking is the main type of physical activity among community-dwelling older adults and it is associated with various health benefits. However, there is limited evidence about the relationship between functional fitness and walking performed under independent living conditions among older adults.
This study examined the relationship between functional fitness and steps walked per day among older adults, both assessed objectively, with performance-based measures accounting for the effect of age, gender, and chronic conditions.
In this cross-sectional study, 60 participants aged 65 years or older (mean = 76.9 ± 7.3 years, range 65–92 years) wore pedometers for 3 consecutive days. Functional fitness was measured using the Functional Fitness Test (lower and upper body strength, endurance, lower and upper body flexibility, agility/balance). The outcome measure was the mean number of steps walked for 3 days with participants classified into tertiles: low walkers (<3000 steps), medium walkers (≥3000 < 6500 steps), and high walkers (≥6500 steps).
After controlling for age, gender, and the number of chronic conditions, none of the functional fitness parameters was significantly associated with steps taken per day when comparing medium walkers with low walkers. In contrast, all functional fitness parameters, except upper body flexibility, were significantly associated with steps taken per day when comparing high walkers with low walkers.
In this sample of older adults, greater functional fitness was associated only with relatively high levels of walking involving 6500 steps per day or more. It was not related to medium walking levels. The findings point to the importance of interventions to maintain or enhance functional fitness among older adults.