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BACKGROUND: The beneficial effect of nut consumption preventing cardio-metabolic diseases and cancer suggests that nuts might also protect from physical function impairment in older people, since aging-related functional decline shares biological pathways with these chronic diseases. The objective was to examine the association between nut consumption and impairment of physical function in older adults.
METHODS: Prospective study with 3,289 individuals aged ≥60 years from the Seniors-ENRICA cohort. In 2008-2010 and 2012 nut consumption was measured with a validated diet history. Participants were followed-up until 2015 to ascertain incident impaired physical function, specifically impaired agility, mobility, grip strength, gait speed and overall physical function. Statistical analyses were performed with Cox regression and adjusted for the main confounders, including a wide set of socioeconomic, lifestyle, dietary and morbidity variables.
RESULTS: Overall, 65.7% of participants consumed any type of nuts. The mean intake among nut consumers was 15.1 g/d in men and 14.6 g/d in women. Median consumption of nuts was 11.5 g/d in both sexes. Men consuming ≥11.5 g/d of nuts had lower risk of impaired agility and mobility than those who did not consume nuts; the hazard ratios (95% confidence interval; p for linear trend) were 0.59 (0.39-0.90; p=0.01) and 0.50 (0.29-0.90; p=0.02), respectively. In women, compared to non-consumers, the hazard ratio (95% confidence interval; p for linear trend) of impaired overall physical function for nut intake ≥11.5 g/d was 0.65 (0.48-0.87; p=0.004). No association was observed between nut consumption and low grip strength and slow gait speed.
CONCLUSIONS: Nut consumption was associated with half the risk of impaired agility and mobility in men and with lower risk of overall physical function impairment in women. The suggested protective effect of nut consumption on physical functioning merits further examination.