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Twenty minutes of daily activity found to reverse frailty in over 65-year-olds

Posted 28 February, 2023

Twenty minutes of daily activity could be the key to reversing frailty and building resilience in older people, (opens in a new window)according to new research.

A study published in (opens in a new window)Age and Ageing - the official journal of the British Geriatrics Society - shows how a combination of simple strength exercises and dietary changes (opens in a new window)help halt frailty and enhance physical resilience in over 65-year-olds.

“Most people believe frailty is inevitable and irreversible as we age,” said lead author Dr John Travers, a general practitioner who led the research at (opens in a new window)University College Dublin.

“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.”

“The practical and easily deployed approach could yield substantial benefits if rolled out across the community,” said Professor Marie-Therese Cooney, senior co-author and consultant geriatrician at St Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin.

Researchers from UCD, Trinity College Dublin, Munster Technological University and six general practices in Ireland developed a simple low cost intervention of resistance exercises and dietary protein which proved to be effective in tackling the onset of frailty.

Among its recommendations are twenty minutes of daily activity at home - which involves ten exercises to strengthen arms and legs, and improve balance and coordination. 

It also encourages a variety of protein consumption, including daily milk, eggs, tuna, chicken or plant-based protein such as beans and lentils. Protein provides the building blocks for muscle and bone.

Frailty is a state of decreased resilience against stressors such as a fall or infection, with an increased risk of disability, dependency and mortality.

The intervention detailed in the new study was co-designed and tested with 112 older people during an initial year-long process.

Following this, 168 participants from six general practices enrolled in a clinical trial and were randomly allocated to an intervention group or  a control group.

Significant improvements were seen in the intervention group compared to 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 Although the effect size was large, a study with more participants will be needed to prove the significance of this finding on biological ageing.

“Involvement of public and patient partners from the outset enhanced the feasibility of this high- quality trial intervention,” said Professor Cooney.

The prevalence of frailty in adults aged over 65 years is about 10% and increases to 50% in those over 80; and the condition not only affects the quality and length of peoples’ lives but also requires significant support from health services.

A person with frailty has a three-fold higher mortality risk compared to those who are not frail, and those with frailty are twice as likely to have to attend an emergency department, and will spend four times as long in hospital compared to a person who is not frail. 

It is estimated that the condition increases additional healthcare cost per person by over €10,000 (£8,850) each year.

“It is never too late to start appropriate exercise. 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,” said Dr Travers.

By: David Kearns, Digital Journalist / Media Officer, UCD University Relations