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Are objective measures of physical capability related to accelerated epigenetic age? Findings from a British birth cohort

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Rachel CooperORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© Article author(s) (or their employer(s) unless otherwise stated in the text of the article) 2017. All rights reserved.Objectives Our aim was to investigate the association of epigenetic age and physical capability in later life. Having a higher epigenetic than chronological age (known as age acceleration (AA)) has been found to be associated with an increased rate of mortality. Similarly, physical capability has been proposed as a marker of ageing due to its consistent associations with mortality. Setting The MRC National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD) cohort study. Participants We used data from 790 women from the NSHD who had DNA methylation data available. Design Epigenetic age was calculated using buccal cell (n=790) and matched blood tissue (n=152) from 790 female NSHD participants. We investigated the association of AA at age 53 with changes in physical capability in women from ages 53 to 60-64. Regression models of change in each measure of physical capability on AA were conducted. Secondary analysis focused on the relationship between AA and smoking, alcohol, body mass index (BMI) and socioeconomic position. Outcome measures Three objective measures of physical capability were used: grip strength, standing balance time and chair rise speed. Results Epigenetic age was lower than chronological age (mean 53.4) for both blood (50.3) and buccal cells (42.8). AA from blood was associated with a greater decrease in grip strength from ages 53 to 60-64 (0.42 kg decrease per year of AA, 95% CI 0.03, 0.82 kg; p=0.03, n=152), but no associations were observed with standing balance time or chair rise speed. Current smoking and lower BMI were associated with lower epigenetic age from buccal cells. Conclusions We found evidence that AA in blood is associated with a greater decrease in grip strength in British females aged between 53 and 60-64, but no association with standing balance time or chair rise speed was found.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Simpkin AJ, Cooper R, Howe LD, Relton CL, Davey Smith G, Teschendorff A, Widschwendter M, Wong A, Kuh D, Hardy R

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: BMJ Open

Year: 2017

Volume: 7

Issue: 10

Print publication date: 01/11/2017

Online publication date: 01/11/2017

Acceptance date: 13/07/2017

Date deposited: 20/01/2022

ISSN (electronic): 2044-6055

Publisher: BMJ Publishing Group


DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-016708

PubMed id: 29092899


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Funder referenceFunder name
National Institute on Ageing of the National Institutes of Health under Award No. R01AG048835
UK Economic and Social Research Council (ES/M010317/1)
UK Medical Research Council (programme codes MC_UU_12019/1, MC_UU_12019/2, MC_UU_12019/4).