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Photo: A group of elderly women participating in an aerobic exercise class. Link to photo information
An ARS study of people aged 70 to 89 years with sarcopenia—age-related muscle loss—showed that their overall physical function improved with exercise. Click the image for more information about it.

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Physical Activity Intervention for the Elderly

By Rosalie Marion Bliss
January 7, 2015

The holidays are over, and the annual New Year's resolutions to get more exercise have begun. Now, as explained in this month's issue of Agricultural Research magazine, the elderly have more reasons than ever to join the ranks of those determined to get moving. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-funded scientists in Boston and co-investigators have reported that elders with relatively little muscle mass can benefit from preventive exercise.

The study was headed by geriatrician Christine Liu and co-authored by physiologist Roger Fielding, both with the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts University in Boston. They are with HNRCA's Nutrition, Exercise Physiology, and Sarcopenia Laboratory, which Fielding directs.

By age 80, an estimated 40 percent of the muscle mass that was present at age 20 is lost. Age-related muscle loss—which excludes disease-related muscle loss—is called "sarcopenia." This condition can lead to costly surgeries and hospital stays due to fractures after falls caused by weak muscles.

The researchers looked at data collected on 177 elders aged 70 to 89 years who were at risk of becoming disabled due to lack of mobility. The data were collected during the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders study. One group of volunteers participated in a physical activity intervention that included aerobic, strength, balance, and flexibility training. The volunteers' body composition, including lean muscle and body fat, was measured—both before and after the intervention.

The results demonstrated that elders with sarcopenia are capable of improving their overall physical function, including balance, walking and strength, in response to physical activity. The study was published in January 2014 in the Journal of Nutrition, Health, and Aging.

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS)—USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency—supports the HNRCA through an agreement. Read more about this research, as well as newly developed tests for local healthcare practitioners' use to diagnose and treat sarcopenia, in the January 2015 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.