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Peripheral nervous system function, physical activity and physical fitness in older adults

Lange-Maia, Brittney (2015) Peripheral nervous system function, physical activity and physical fitness in older adults. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Peripheral nervous system function (PNS) impairments are often unappreciated as risk factors for major geriatric outcomes. This dissertation aimed to examine the mechanism of these consequences of poor PNS function. The relationships of sensorimotor peripheral nerve function and physical activity (PA), longitudinal physical fitness assessed via endurance walking performance, and the associations with cardiac autonomic function were investigated. Lower-extremity sensorimotor impairments have been linked to poor mobility-related outcomes, while cardiac autonomic impairments are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular outcomes and death. Ultimately, both divisions play important roles in the ability of older adults to be physically active and remain independent. Diabetes-related PNS impairments may present challenges for maintaining PA and endurance, though this work has not been extended to age-related PNS dysfunction. In addition, sensorimotor and autonomic function are rarely examined together, despite being components of the same system.
First, worse sensorimotor peripheral nerve function in older men from the Pittsburgh site of the Osteoporotic Fractures in Men Study was found to be associated with lower levels of self-reported and objectively measured daily PA. In particular, worse amplitude, which indicates axonal degeneration, was associated with lower levels of objectively measured activity. In the Health, Aging and Body Composition Study (Health ABC) sensorimotor peripheral nerve impairments were related to lower physical fitness, evident through slower endurance walking and greater rate of slowing over six years of follow-up. Those with sensory peripheral nerve impairments completed the long distance corridor walk approximately 15 seconds slower than those without impairments, and these impairments had an additional four seconds of slowing per year. Finally, in Health ABC worse lower extremity sensorimotor function was associated with poorer cardiac autonomic function.
PNS impairments appear to play major roles in the disability pathway in old age and warrant further study. These findings suggest possible novel mechanisms for these associations, including lower PA, fitness and endurance, and cardiac autonomic function. Helping older adults maintain their health and physical function is a major public health priority. Interventions aimed at promoting PA in those with PNS impairments may be beneficial for reducing poor outcomes in older adults.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Lange-Maia, Brittneybsl14@pitt.eduBSL14
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairStrotmeyer, Elsa S.elsst21@pitt.eduELSST21
Committee MemberNewman, Anne B.anewman@pitt.eduANEWMAN
Committee MemberCauley, Jane A.jcauley@edc.pitt.eduJCAULEY
Committee MemberBoudreau, RobertBoudreauR@edc.pitt.eduROB21
Committee MemberJakicic, Johnjjakicic@pitt.eduJJAKICIC
Date: 29 June 2015
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 10 April 2015
Approval Date: 29 June 2015
Submission Date: 24 April 2015
Access Restriction: 2 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 2 years.
Number of Pages: 172
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Public Health > Epidemiology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: peripheral nervous system function, older adults, peripheral nerve, endurance, physical activity
Date Deposited: 29 Jun 2015 15:53
Last Modified: 01 May 2017 05:15


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