Want to Prevent Frailty as You Age? Start Strength Training While You Are Young

Past generations accepted frailty in older adults as an inevitable fact of life. Over the past decades, that commonly-held belief has changed. Medical research showed that frailty and sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass as we age, could be reversed through exercise. Now, new research presented at the 2019 International Conference on Frailty and Sarcopenia in Miami last month supports the idea that starting an exercise program in your 20s and 30s, and maintaining it, is even more important than we previous thought.

StrongPath spoke with one of the researchers, Cyrus Cooper, MD, and professor of Rheumatology at the University of Southampton, who presented a joint study between researchers in the United Kingdom and the United States at the conference. Dr. Cooper said that everyone should start both aerobic and resistance training in childhood and continue it as they get older to prevent muscle loss and frailty.

“To maximize the preventive approach against sarcopenia, we’d want to start early. We know that not just body composition and muscle performance track, we also know that behaviors track. So that if we can instate healthy behavior patterns, both physical activity and nutritional, during earlier years, they’re likely to have even greater dividends as we get into our later life,” he explained.

Dr. Cooper, like many medical researchers, believes that starting early is important, but that you can still improve your muscle strength and mass if you start in your later years. “If you miss that earlier phase, you’ve still got the later phase in which to reduce the loss rate, but you’re condemned to doing so from a worse peak, if you like, than had you optimized that during mid-life,” he told StrongPath.

Walston pointed out that in the U.K., doctors can prescribe an exercise class to an older patients as part of a falls and fractures prevention treatment plan. “They’re not necessarily fully endurance training levels of activity that need to be supervised by physiotherapist. But, they’re certainly of substantial benefit both from the point of view of muscle function, prevention of sarcopenia and falls, and indeed general well-being.”

He is pleased to see the profound shifts in the approach to physical activity for older adults worldwide over the last decade. “We’ve focused our energy on nutrition, avoidance of tobacco, and avoidance of very heavy alcohol consumption. But, there is a growing understanding that maintenance of physical activity and particularly of physical activity that loads the muscles is going to be an important contributor to reducing physical disability in our advancing years.

Watch Dr. Cooper’s complete interview here.

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