By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA
Just 20 minutes of daily activity can reverse frailty in people aged over 65, according to research by University College Dublin (UCD).
The study’s recommendation involves 10 exercises to strengthen arms and legs aimed at improving balance and co-ordination.
It also encourages including protein in daily diets, such as milk, eggs, tuna, chicken or plant-based protein such as beans and lentils, as it provides foundations for building muscles and strengthening bones.
Frailty is a state of decreased resilience against stressors such as falls or infections, leading to an increased risk of disability, dependency and mortality.
The study – published in the official journal of the British Geriatrics Society, Age and Ageing – shows how a combination of simple strength exercises and dietary changes could help stop frailty and enhance physical resilience in those aged over 65.
“Most people believe frailty is inevitable and irreversible as we age,” said Dr John Travers, a general practitioner who led the research at UCD.
“However, this clinical trial showed that a simple, low-cost, home-based intervention can reverse frailty and significantly improve muscle strength, bone mass, activity levels and slowness in three months.”
Professor Marie-Therese Cooney, senior co-author and consultant geriatrician at St Vincent’s University Hospital, said: “The practical and easily deployed approach could yield substantial benefits if rolled out across the community.”
Researchers from UCD, Trinity College Dublin, Munster Technological University and six general practices in Ireland developed resistance exercises and dietary advice to take protein which proved effective in tackling the onset of frailty.
The intervention in the new study was co-designed and tested with 112 older people during an initial year-long process.
After this, 168 participants from six general practices enrolled in a clinical trial and were randomly allocated to an intervention group or a control group.
The study concluded there were significant improvements in the intervention group compared with the control group, including reversal of frailty, better grip strength, increased bone mass, and improved activity levels.
The number of participants who were frail in the group that undertook the exercises and dietary changes decreased by two-thirds, and two-thirds of participants found the exercises and dietary changes easy.
The study also measured the biological age of participants as a secondary outcome.
It found that the average age in the control group was three months older at the end of the three-month period, while the average age in the intervention group was seven months younger.
It said that a study with more participants is needed to prove the significance of the biological ageing finding.
People with frailty are statistically twice as likely to have to attend an emergency department, and will spend four times as long in hospital compared with a person who is not frail.
It is estimated that the condition increases additional healthcare cost per person by more than 10,000 euro each year.
“It is never too late to start appropriate exercise,” said Dr Travers.
“The older we get, the more important this becomes. This study offers hope and strong evidence that people can achieve higher levels of resilience than previously thought possible.”