For people in their 70's, light to moderate alcohol intake may offer women, but not men, some protection against loss of mobility, a study hints.
But the investigators caution that most of this benefit is tied to the drinkers' lifestyle.
The study looked at associations between alcohol intake and the mobility levels reported by 3,061 healthy men and women who were 70 to 79 years old and living in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Memphis, Tennessee areas.
At enrollment, none had difficulty walking a quarter mile, climbing 10 steps, or performing basic activities of daily living. Every 6 months over the next 6.5 years, the participants had either a clinical examination or completed a mobility survey.
From these evaluations, Dr. Cinzia Maraldi of the University of Ferrara in Italy and colleagues determined that 24 percent of the study subjects had become unable to walk a quarter mile, climb 10 steps without resting, or perform daily activities. Another 49 percent developed difficulty performing these tasks.
When Maraldi's team looked at mobility according to weekly alcohol intake, as determined at study enrollment, moderate drinking in men and light to moderate drinking in women appeared to be associated with lower loss of mobility.
For men, moderate intake was defined as 8 to 14 drinks per week. For women, light drinking was 1 to 3 drinks per week and moderate drinking, 4 to 7 drinks a week.
However, most of the apparent protective effect on mobility of light and moderate alcohol intake was found to be due to lifestyle factors of the drinkers - particularly lower body weight, higher physical activity levels, higher income, and more education.
In the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, Maraldi and colleagues suggest caution in "attributing a direct benefit of moderate alcohol intake on functional ability," since these findings show that lifestyle plays a more important role in elder's ability to maintain mobility.