Open Access Research article

Physical and mental health-related correlates of physical function in community dwelling older adults: a cross sectional study

Carol Ewing Garber1*, Mary L Greaney2, Deborah Riebe3, Claudio R Nigg4, Patricia A Burbank5 and Phillip G Clark6

Author Affiliations

1 Teachers College, Columbia University, Department of Biobehavioral Sciences, Program in Movement Sciences and Education, 525 West 120th Street, Box 199, New York, NY 10027, USA

2 Dana Farber Cancer Institute, The Center for Community-Based Research, 44 Binney Street, Boston, MA 02115, USA

3 The University of Rhode Island, Department of Kinesiology, 25 West Independence Way, Kingston, RI 20881, USA

4 University of Hawaii, Department of Public Health Studies, Social and Behavioral Sciences, 1960 East West Road, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA

5 University of Rhode Island, College of Nursing, 2 Heathman Road, White Hall, Kingston, RI 02881, USA

6 The University of Rhode Island, Program in Gerontology, 55 Lower College Road, 100 Quinn Hall, Kingston, RI 02881, USA

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BMC Geriatrics 2010, 10:6  doi:10.1186/1471-2318-10-6

Published: 3 February 2010



Physical function is the ability to perform both basic and instrumental activities of daily living, and the ability of older adults to reside in the community depends to a large extent on their level of physical function. Multiple physical and health-related variables may differentially affect physical function, but they have not been well characterized. The purpose of this investigation was to identify and examine physical and mental health-related correlates of physical function in a sample of community-dwelling older adults.


Nine hundred and four community dwelling older men (n = 263) and women (n = 641) with a mean (95% Confidence Interval) age of 76.6 (76.1, 77.1) years underwent tests of physical function (Timed Up and Go; TUG), Body Mass Index (BMI) was calculated from measured height and weight, and data were collected on self-reported health quality of life (SF-36), falls during the past 6 months, number of medications per day, depression (Geriatric Depression Scale; GDS), social support, and sociodemographic variables.


Subjects completed the TUG in 8.7 (8.2, 9.2) seconds and expended 6,976 (6,669, 7,284) Kcal.wk-1 in physical activity. The older persons had a mean BMI of 27. 6 (27.2, 28.0), 62% took 3 or more medications per day, and14.4% had fallen one or more times over the last 6 months. Mean scores on the Mental Component Summary (MCS) was 50.6 (50.2, 51,0) and the Physical Component Summary (PCS) was 41.3 (40.8, 41.8).

Multiple sequential regression analysis showed that, after adjustment for TUG floor surface correlates of physical function included age, sex, education, physical activity (weekly energy expenditure), general health, bodily pain, number of medications taken per day, depression and Body Mass Index. Further, there is a dose response relationship such that greater degree of physical function impairment is associated with poorer scores on physical health-related variables.


Physical function in community-dwelling older adults is associated with several physical and mental health-related factors. Further study examining the nature of the relationships between these variables is needed.