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Less social activity associated with motor function decline

Older adults with limited participation in social activities had a faster decline in motor function than those who had frequent social engagements, according to a report in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The study suggests that more frequent participation in social activities may slow older adults’ motor decline, which can lead to disability and other adverse health outcomes.

In an NIA-supported study of 906 older adults without stroke, Parkinson’s disease, or dementia, researchers from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago found that each 1-point decrease in a participant’s social activity was associated with about a 33-percent more rapid rate of decline of motor function, a more than 40-percent increased risk of death, and a 65-percent increased risk of new disability. This decrease in social activity was equivalent to being about 5 years older at the start of the study. These associations held up after controlling for demographic and confounding factors such as chronic medical conditions, depression, and joint pain. 

The researchers measured social activity based on frequency of activities such as going to restaurants and sporting events, attending religious services, traveling, playing bingo, and doing volunteer work. Motor function was measured by a composite score on 18 tests, including walking speed, grip strength, hip flexion, and turning.

While higher levels of physical activity are known to be associated with a slower rate of decline in motor function, this study and others suggest a similar effect for social activity. “These findings may be particularly relevant for intervention strategies designed for older adults, for whom participation in physical activities may be constrained because of underlying health problems,” the authors conclude. However, more research is needed to confirm that increased social activity causes slower motor decline, not vice versa.


Buchman, A.S., et al. Association between late-life social activity and motor decline in older adults. Arch Intern Med. 2009 June 22. 169(12):1139–46.