Age and gender differences in physical capability levels from mid-life onwards: the harmonisation and meta-analysis of data from eight UK cohort studies

Rachel Cooper, Rebecca Hardy, Avan Aihie Sayer, Yoav Ben-Shlomo, Kate Birnie, Cyrus Cooper, Leone Craig, Ian J Deary, Panayotes Demakakos, John Gallacher, Geraldine McNeill, Richard M Martin, John M Starr, Andrew Steptoe, Diana Kuh, HALCyon Study Team

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Using data from eight UK cohorts participating in the Healthy Ageing across the Life Course (HALCyon) research programme, with ages at physical capability assessment ranging from 50 to 90+ years, we harmonised data on objective measures of physical capability (i.e. grip strength, chair rising ability, walking speed, timed get up and go, and standing balance performance) and investigated the cross-sectional age and gender differences in these measures. Levels of physical capability were generally lower in study participants of older ages, and men performed better than women (for example, results from meta-analyses (N = 14,213 (5 studies)), found that men had 12.62 kg (11.34, 13.90) higher grip strength than women after adjustment for age and body size), although for walking speed, this gender difference was attenuated after adjustment for body size. There was also evidence that the gender difference in grip strength diminished with increasing age,whereas the gender difference in walking speed widened (p<0.01 for interactions between age and gender in both cases). This study highlights not only the presence of age and gender differences in objective measures of physical capability but provides a demonstration that harmonisation of data from several large cohort studies is possible. These harmonised data are now being used within HALCyon to understand the lifetime social and biological determinants of physical capability and its changes with age.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere27899
Number of pages14
JournalPloS ONE
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 16 Nov 2011



  • adolescent
  • adult
  • age factors
  • aged
  • aged, 80 and over
  • child
  • child, preschool
  • cohort studies
  • cross-sectional studies
  • female
  • humans
  • infant
  • infant, newborn
  • male
  • middle aged
  • physical endurance
  • sex factors
  • walking
  • young adult

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