Exercise Can Help Avoid Frailty in Older Adults

Signs of frailty cannot be contributed solely to aging, and may be a combination of sedentary lifestyles and inactivity, according to research.

Regular exercise can help aging adults avoid becoming more physically frail as they age, according to a study published in the Journal of Physiology.

Researchers from King’s College London and the University of Birmingham recruited 95 cycling enthusiasts aged 55 to 79 years in order to assess how the aging process affects the human body. The researchers subsequently tried to determine which physiological markers can be used to determine age. Participants who lead sedentary lifestyles, were smokers, and with high blood pressure or other health conditions were excluded. After 2 days of laboratory testing — which included being able to cycle 100 km in under 6.5 hours and 60 km in 5.5 hours for men and women, respectively – the participants were assessed for cardiovascular, respiratory, neuromuscular, metabolic, endocrine, and cognitive functions, both strength, and health and well being. The participants’ reflexes, muscle strength, oxygen uptake during exercise, and peak explosive cycling power were also determined.

The researchers determined the signs of aging were not obvious in the participant group, noting that no consistent biomarkers for aging were present. Even the oldest outliers in the group showed little difference from normal healthy young adults in one specific task: the time taken to stand from sitting, walk 3 minutes, and sit back down.

The researchers believe that decline in bodily functions may not be inevitable aspects of the natural aging process, but instead due to the effects of aging and inactivity in combination.

“Inevitably, our bodies will experience some decline with age, but staying physically active can buy you extra years of function compared to sedentary people,” said professor emeritus Norman Lazarus, from King’s College London. “Cycling not only keeps you mentally alert, but requires the vigorous use of many of the body’s key systems, such as your muscles, heart and lungs which you need for maintaining health and for reducing the risks associated with numerous diseases.”

Ross Pollock, the lead author of the paper from King’s College London, continued by saying that an important part of the study was trying to decide which participants should be selected to take part in the study.

“The main problem facing health research is that in modern societies the majority of the population is inactive,” he said. “A sedentary lifestyle causes physiological problems at any age. Hence the confusion as to how much the decline in bodily functions is due to the natural ageing process and how much is due to the combined effects of ageing and inactivity. In many models of ageing lifespan is the primary measure, but in human beings this is arguably less important than the consequences of deterioration in health. Healthy life expectancy — our health span – is not keeping pace with the average lifespan, and the years we spend with poor health and disabilities in old age are growing.”