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Exercise Still Offers Benefits for Those Who Are Frail

September 9, 2012

A study by Louis Bherer, PhD (Psychology), Laboratory Director and Researcher at the Institut Universitaire de Gériatrie de Montréal (IUGM), a senior care center affiliated with the University of Montréal, has shown that all seniors, even those considered frail, can enjoy the benefits of exercise for their physical and cognitive faculties and quality of life, and that these benefits appear after only three months.

In this study, 43 of the 83 participants between the ages of 61 and 89 years, some of whom were considered frail, took part in group exercises done 3 times a week for 12 weeks, while the control group of 40 participants did not follow the exercise program. All participants were evaluated one week before the start of the program and at the end of the program for physical capacity, quality of life and cognitive health. Compared to the control group, the exercise participants showed larger improvement in physical capacity (functional capacities and physical endurance), cognitive performance (executive functions, processing speed and working memory) and quality of life (overall quality of life, recreational activities, social and family relationships and physical health). Most importantly, benefits were equivalent among frail and non-frail participants suggesting that it’s never too late to engage in exercise intervention programs. The findings were published online on the Web site of the Journals of Gerontology.

This discovery is welcome news, as increased life expectancy has also increased the number of frail seniors in our communities. In geriatrics, frailness is characterized by decreased functional reserves, which increases vulnerability to stressors and the risk of adverse health effects. Frailty is associated with a higher risk of falls, hospitalizations, cognitive decline and psychological distress. Currently, 7 percent of seniors aged 65 to 74, 18 percent of those aged 75 to 84 and 37 percent of seniors over the age of 85 are considered frail.

"For the first time, frail senior citizens have participated in a study on exercise thanks to the collaboration of medical doctors at IUGM, who provided close medical supervision. My team was able to demonstrate that sedentary and frail senior citizens can benefit from major improvements not only in terms of physical function but also brain function, such as memory, and quality of life," stated Dr. Bherer. "We hope to adapt the exercise program used in the study and make it available to the public through the seniors' health promotion centre that the IUGM is developing. We believe that by transferring our research findings to the public, we will help both healthy and frail senior citizens stay at home longer."

If you or a loved one has shied away from exercise because of frailty or have simply become sedentary over the years, talk to your doctor about safe ways to begin exercise.