Decline of functional capacity in healthy aging workers

Remko Soer, Sandra Brouwer, Jan H Geertzen, Cees van der Schans, Johan W. Groothoff, Michiel F Reneman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


OBJECTIVES: (1) To study the natural decline in functional capacity (FC) of healthy aging workers; (2) to compare FC to categories of workload; and (3) to study the differences in decline between men and women.

DESIGN: Cross-sectional design.

SETTING: A rehabilitation center at a university medical center.

PARTICIPANTS: Volunteer sample of healthy workers (N=701) between 20 and 60 years of age, working at least 20 hours per week in the year prior to the study. Subjects were recruited via local press and personal networks.

INTERVENTIONS: FC was measured with a 14-item Functional Capacity Evaluation. Demographics and health status were measured with a general demographic questionnaire and the RAND-36 questionnaire.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Workload was expressed by the workload categories, as described by the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. Descriptive statistics were used to present FC of workers. Change in FC by age was tested with segmented regression analyses with a cutoff point at 45 years of age.

RESULTS: Significant but small declines of FC under age 45 years were present in repetitive reaching, hand dexterity, and energetic capacity. Up to 45 years of age, hand and finger strength increased on average. Over 45 years of age, lifting, carrying, hand and finger strength, and coordinative tests declined more compared with the group aged less than 45 years. Work capacity of men and women working in sedentary and light work was sufficient in all age categories. There are no differences in decline between men and women.

CONCLUSIONS: FC of healthy workers declines with age. This study demonstrates substantial variation in the type of FC decline among healthy workers between 20 and 60 years of age. Material handling, hand and finger strength, and hand coordination appear to decline the most in workers over age 45 years. The objective of rehabilitation is to maximize an individual's FC, particularly with respect to environmental demand. Thus, return to work programs must appreciate both FC and workplace demands in an effort to restore/enhance equilibrium between the 2.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2326-2332
JournalArchives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2012


  • adults
  • aging
  • body weights and measures
  • cross-sectional studies
  • health status
  • mental health
  • occupational health
  • rehabilitation centers
  • socioeconomic factors
  • work capacity evaluation
  • workload


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