Association of Breathing Reserve at Peak Exercise With Body Composition and Physical Function in Older Adults With Obesity

J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2019 Nov 13;74(12):1973-1979. doi: 10.1093/gerona/gly276.


Background: Adiposity-related ventilatory constraints in older adults can potentially contribute to greater risk of exercise intolerance and mobility disability. This study investigated whether ventilatory limitation, measured by breathing reserve (BR) at peak exercise, is associated with body composition and physical function in older adults with obesity.

Methods: This study was a cross-sectional analysis of data from a community-based cohort (N = 177) of older men and women (65-79 years) with obesity (body mass index = 30-45 kg/m2). All participants underwent cardiopulmonary exercise testing on a treadmill, dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry for body composition, and physical function assessments. We examined relationships between BR and body composition and physical function using multiple linear regression and compared a subset with (BR ≤ 30%; BR-low; n = 56) and without (BR ≥ 45%; BR-high, n = 48) ventilatory limitation using unpaired Student's t test and analysis of covariance.

Results: BR was inversely related to total body mass, lean mass, fat mass, % body fat, and waist circumference (p < 0.05 for all). BR was positively related to 400 m walk time (p = .006) and inversely related to usual gait speed (p = .05) and VO2peak (p < .0001), indicative of worse physical function. BR-low had greater adiposity, but also greater lean mass, higher VO2peak, and faster 400 m walk time, compared to BR-high (p < .05, for all).

Conclusions: Older adults with obesity who also have ventilatory limitation have overall higher measures of adiposity, but do not have lower peak exercise capacity or physical function. Thus, ventilatory limitation does not appear to be a contributing factor to obesity-related decrements in exercise tolerance or mobility.

Keywords: Aging; Functional performance; Lean mass; Maximal oxygen consumption; Respiratory mechanics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon
  • Aged
  • Body Composition*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Exercise Test
  • Exercise Tolerance / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Respiratory Function Tests