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Researchers in Spain investigated the relationship between frailty, exercise and heart disease-related and all-cause deaths in older adults.
As people age, they become more frail, with many of the body’s systems having lower reserves. This means that elderly people are more susceptible to chronic illness or infection, and have reduced muscle strength that puts them at a higher risk of falls and fractures.
Previous research suggests that keeping physically active can improve health in older adults and lower the risk of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, several cancers and depression.
Exercise could be a cost-effective health intervention and might also extend lifespan. Researchers in Spain investigated the relationship between frailty, exercise and heart disease-related and all-cause deaths in older adults. They recently published their findings in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society.
Examining data from senior adults
The researchers used data from the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid (UAM) Study which collected information from a representative population group of adults over 60 years old in Spain in 2000-2001. Trained interviewers performed physical examinations and collected health information from study participants in their homes. Frailty was assessed using the standardized “FRAIL questionnaire”, which assesses levels of fatigue, limitation in walking upstairs and on the flat, illness and weight loss.
Participants with no frailty factors were categorized as “robust”, those with one or two factors as “prefrail” and those with three or more factors as “frail”. Participants were also asked about levels of physical activity, and categorized as “physically active” or “physically inactive”. The participants were followed for an average of 14 years, and deaths from heart disease and other causes were recorded.
Almost 3,900 participants were included in the study. Of these, 52.0% were categorized as “robust”, 39.4% were “prefrail” and 8.6% were “frail”. After 14 years of follow-up, there were just over 1,800 deaths, of which 672 were from heart disease.
Physical activity reduced mortality risk due to heart disease
Compared with robust participants, those who were pre-frail or frail had a higher risk of heart disease-related and all-cause mortality. Compared with robust physically active participants, the frail physically inactive participants had the highest risk of heart disease-related and all-cause mortality. However, frail and prefrail participants who were physically active had a lower risk of mortality than physically inactive frail and prefrail participants.
The researchers concluded that, in this population sample of older adults, prefrailty and frailty were associated with a greater risk of all-cause and heart disease-related death. However, being physically active reduced mortality risk in these groups. This suggests that physical activity might partly reduce the mortality risk linked to frailty in old age. Physical exercise could be a low-cost and effective health intervention for older adults.
Written by Julie McShane, Medical Writer
Reference: Higueras-Fresnillo S, Cabanas-Sanchez V, Lopez-Garcia E, et al. Physical activity and association between frailty and all-cause and cardiovascular mortality in older adults: population-based prospective cohort study. J Am Geriatric Society 00:1-7, 2018. DOI:10.1111/jgs.15542