Regular Physical Activity Can Maintain or Improve Frailty

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Frailty is the medical term for becoming weaker or experiencing lower levels of activity or energy. Becoming frail as we age increases our risk for poor health, falls, disability, and other serious concerns.

Aging increases the risks for becoming frail. As more of us live longer, it’s likely that frailty will pose a larger public health problem in the near future. Experts in geriatrics (the field of health care focused on care for older adults) suggest that maintaining a healthy lifestyle may reduce your chances of becoming frail.

One aspect of a healthy lifestyle is getting regular physical activity. However, studies on the association between physical activity and frailty among older adults show different results. Some studies suggest that regular physical activity could delay frailty and reduce its severity, but other studies do not. And most of the studies have examined people aged 50 to 70, so the information we have for people over age 70 is limited.

To address this gap, researchers conducted a new study as part of a European project that promotes healthy aging in older adults. They examined the benefits of assistance that helps older adults follow their prescribed medications and prevent falls, frailty, and loneliness. The participants received care at study sites in five European countries (Spain, Greece, Croatia, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom). The study results were published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

Keep Moving to Prevent Major Mobility Disability

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Having trouble getting around on your own—such as difficulty walking, climbing steps, or being able to get in and out of a chair—can lead to physical disability and losing your independence.

According to research, being physically inactive is the strongest risk factor for disability as we age.

We know that physical activity has proven health benefits, especially moderate-to-vigorous physical activity such as walking to the store or many types of gardening. But perhaps surprisingly, we don’t know much about the benefits of lighter forms of physical activity or the effects of spreading our physical activity throughout the day. Understanding the benefits of moving more often and engaging in even lighter forms of physical activity is important for older adults’ health. These types of physical activity may be easier for older adults to practice regularly, especially those who are frail.

That’s why a team of researchers created a study to examine the effects of performing light physical activity and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity on older adults. The researchers were interested in studying how participating in these different intensities of activity, and whether a person spreads their physical activity throughout the day, affects the chances for developing a major mobility disability. The participants in the study were older adults who had challenges with physical function and who participated in the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) study. The researchers published their study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

Aerobic Exercise and Heart-Healthy Diet May Slow Development of Memory Problems

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Cognitive impairment without dementia (CIND), or mild cognitive impairment, is a condition that affects your memory and may put you at risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. According to the U.S. National Library for Medicine, signs of mild cognitive impairment may include frequently losing things, forgetting to go to events and appointments, and having more trouble coming up with words than other people of your age.

Sine experts believe that risk factors for heart disease also are risk factors for dementia and late-life cognitive decline and dementia. Recently, researchers examined two potential ways to slow the development of CIND based on what we know about preventing heart disease. They published the results of their study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The research team had a theory: That the healthy lifestyle behaviors that slow the development of heart disease could reduce heart disease risk and also slow cognitive decline in older adults with CIND. These behaviors include regular exercise and a heart-healthy diet, such as the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet.

In order to investigate their theory, the researchers designed a study titled “Exercise and NutritionaL Interventions for coGnitive and Cardiovascular HealTh EnhaNcement” (or ENLIGHTEN for short). The goal of the study was to examine the effects of aerobic exercise (sometimes known as “cardio” or “cardiovascular” exercise because it involves activities that increase the circulation of oxygen through the blood) and the DASH diet on cognitive functioning in older adults with CIND.

The ENLIGHTEN study examined 160 adults 55-years-old or older. The study participants were older adults who didn’t exercise and had memory problems, difficulty thinking, and making decisions. They also had at least one additional risk factor for heart disease, such as high blood pressure (also known as hypertension), high cholesterol, diabetes, or other chronic conditions.

Participants took a number of tests to measure their heart disease risk factors and cognitive ability. Researchers also assessed participants’ dietary habits and ability to perform daily activities. The participants were then randomly assigned to one of four groups: a group doing aerobic exercise alone, a group following the DASH diet alone, a group doing aerobic exercise and following the DASH diet combined, or a group receiving standard health education.

People in the exercise group did 35 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise (including walking or stationary biking) three times per week for six months. They were supervised for three months and then exercised unsupervised at home for three months. Participants in the exercise group did not receive any counseling in the DASH diet and were encouraged to follow their usual diets for six months.

People in the DASH eating plan group received instruction about how to meet DASH guidelines in a series of weekly sessions for three months and then bi-weekly for the remaining three months. Participants in the DASH group were asked not to engage in regular exercise until the completion of the six-month study.

People in the exercise and DASH group followed the exercise and DASH programs for six months. The participants who were enrolled in the health education group received weekly educational phone calls for three months and then bi-weekly calls for three months. Phone calls were conducted by a health educator on health topics related to heart disease. Participants were asked to maintain their usual dietary and exercise habits for six months until they were re-evaluated.

At the conclusion of the six-month intervention and assessment, participants were free to engage in whatever activity and dietary habits they desired, with no restrictions.

The results of the research team’s study showed that exercise improved the participants’ ability to think, remember, and make decisions compared to non-exercisers, and that combining exercise with the DASH diet improved the ability to think, remember, and make decisions, compared to people who didn’t exercise or follow the diet—even though they didn’t perfectly follow the programs they were assigned to during the six-month interventions.

The researchers concluded that their findings are promising proof that improved ability to think, remember, and make decisions can last one year after completing a six-month exercise intervention. They suggested that further studies would be needed to learn more.

This summary is from “Longer Term Effects of Diet and Exercise on Neurocognition: One Year Follow-Up of the ENLIGHTEN Trial.” It appears online ahead of print in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study authors are: James A. Blumenthal, PhD; Patrick J. Smith, PhD; Stephanie Mabe, MS; Alan Hinderliter, MD; Kathleen Welsh-Bohmer, PhD; Jeffrey N. Browndyke, PhD; P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP; Pao-Hwa Lin, PhD; William E. Kraus, MD; James R. Burke, MD; and Andrew Sherwood, PhD.

Exercise Improves Anxiety and Mood in Older Adults Undergoing Chemotherapy

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Although we know that exercise improves anxiety and mood problems in younger people with cancer, few studies have looked at the effects of exercise on older adults with cancer. Since most new cancer cases occur in adults aged 60 or older, a team of researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center and other institutions designed a study to learn more.

Their study appeared in the June issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (JAGS).

Having cancer increases the chances of people experiencing anxiety and mood issues, which can affect emotional and social well-being. In turn, this may lead people to discontinue cancer treatments—which can mean shortening their survival.

Chemotherapy can benefit older adults with cancer, even though older people receiving this type of treatment often experience higher rates of dangerous side effects than younger people do. Older adults often experience anxiety and other mood disorders during their treatment for cancer, too—and treating those problems with medications can often cause potentially dangerous side effects.

What’s more, many anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines and antidepressants are listed in the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) Beers Criteria® as being potentially inappropriate for older adults. That’s why it is desirable to seek alternative treatments that are safe and effective at improving anxiety, mood disturbances, and emotional and social well-being, including treatments that don’t rely on medications. For example, several studies have been conducted to examine the relationship between exercise and mood in cancer survivors and most have shown positive results. Continue reading

How Interval Training Affects “Belly Fat” in Obese 70-Year-Olds

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

By today’s estimates, one-third of adults aged 65 or older are obese. This growing obesity trend, along with the decrease in our level of physical activity as we age, seriously raises our risk of diseases and death.

We know that aging leads to a gradual decrease in lean body mass (LBM). Put simply, LBM is the entire weight of your body minus the weight associated with fat tissue. As we age, fat distribution in the body can shift, and often increases in the belly region. This is a health concern for older adults, because so-called “belly fat” (also known as “central obesity”) is associated with a greater risk for heart disease than general obesity.

Now, a team of researchers have designed a study to learn more about the effects of a 10-week, easy-to-perform, personalized, progressive vigorous-intensity interval training among 70-year-olds with “belly fat.” Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading