Effects of body composition and adipose tissue distribution on respiratory function in elderly men and women: the health, aging, and body composition study

J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2011 Jul;66(7):801-8. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glr059. Epub 2011 Apr 15.


Background: Previous cross-sectional studies demonstrate positive associations of fat-free mass and negative associations of centrally distributed fat deposits with respiratory function in older adults. Few studies have evaluated whether greater losses of muscle and increases in fat are associated with more rapid decline in respiratory function in aging.

Methods: Nine hundred and fifty-seven men and 1,024 women aged, respectively, 73.6 ± 2.8 years and 73.2 ± 2.8 years at baseline were followed for 5 years. Body weight, waist circumference, bone mineral density, fat-free mass, fat mass and fat mass percentage as measured by DXA, abdominal subcutaneous and visceral adipose tissue, thigh muscle area, thigh intermuscular fat by CT and forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) and forced vital capacity (FVC) were evaluated at baseline and after 5-years follow-up.

Results: Cross-sectional analyses showed that height and thigh muscle area were positively and visceral adipose tissue negatively related to FEV1 and FVC. Increase in fat mass over five years was associated with concurrent FEV1 and FVC decline. In analyses stratified by weight-change categories, men and women who gained weight (vs stable/lost weight) had more rapid declines in FEV1 and FVC.

Conclusion: In this well-functioning cohort, less muscle and greater abdominal fat were each associated with poorer lung spirometry cross-sectionally, whereas increase in fat mass over 5 years was associated with concurrent FEV1 and FVC decline. Weight gain and accompanying fat deposition may accelerate age-related declines in respiratory function.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Body Composition / physiology*
  • Body Fat Distribution*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Geriatric Assessment / methods*
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Respiratory Physiological Phenomena*
  • Sex Factors
  • Spirometry