Introduction Research suggests that frailty not only influence individual systems, but also it affects the interconnection between them. However, no study exists to show how the interplay between cardiovascular and motor performance is compromised with frailty. Aim To investigate the effect of frailty on the association between heart rate (HR) dynamics and gait performance. Methods Eighty-five older adults (≥65 years and able to walk 9.14 meters) were recruited (October 2016-March 2018) and categorized into 26 non-frail (age = 78.65±7.46 years) and 59 pre-frail/frail individuals (age = 81.01±8.17) based on the Fried frailty phenotype. Participants performed gait tasks while equipped with a wearable electrocardiogram (ECG) sensor attached to the chest, as well as wearable gyroscopes for gait assessment. HR dynamic parameters were extracted, including time to peak HR and percentage increase in HR in response to walking. Using the gyroscope sensors gait parameters were recorded including stride length, stride velocity, mean swing velocity, and double support. Results Among the pre-frail/frail group, time to peak HR was significantly correlated with all gait parameters (p<0.0001, r = 0.51-0.59); however, for the non-frail group, none of the correlations between HR dynamics and gait performance parameters were significant (p>0.45, r = 0.03-0.15). The moderation analysis of time to peak HR, demonstrated a significant interaction effect of HR dynamics and frailty status on walking velocity (p<0.01), and the interaction effect was marginally non-significant for other gait parameters (p>0.10). Conclusions Current findings, for the first time, suggest that a compromised motor and cardiac autonomic interaction exist among pre-frail/frail older adults; an impaired HR performance (i.e., slower increase of HR in response to stressors) may lead to a slower walking performance. Assessing physical performance and its corresponding HR behavior should be studied as a tool for frailty screening and providing insights about the underlying cardiovascular-related mechanism leading to physical frailty.
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