Skip to main content

Frail seniors can benefit greatly from exercise

September 10, 2012

The benefits of exercise for the elderly are well-known, but some may think only older adults that are already in good physical condition can enjoy the advantages of staying physically fit. However, results of a new study suggest that even elderly individuals who are considered frail would do well to exercise.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Montreal, focused on 83 adults between the ages of 61 and 89, 43 of whom participated in group exercises three times a week for 12 weeks. The remaining 40 did not take part in an organized exercise regimen.

After the duration of the study, the team noticed that the participants who were in the exercise group enjoyed a greater improvement of physical function, cognitive performance and overall quality of life. Interestingly, the results were just as substantial for frail participants as they were for the others.

"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," said Dr. Louis Bherer. "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."

The findings may help a large proportion of older adults enjoy the benefits of independent living. Currently, about 7 percent of adults between 65 and 74 are considered frail, but that number jumps to about 37 percent in those over 85.

Frailty can play a large role in diminishing the quality of life of seniors. Older adults who are considered frail are often at a greater risk of falls, hospitalization and physical distress. However, now that researchers know seniors can improve their health by exercising - even if they're frail - it could change the way people view healthy aging.

Still, while frail seniors can benefit from exercise, there are certain activities that are better suited to their condition than others. According the American Academy of Family Physicians, some of the best exercises for frail older adults include walking, cycling and swimming, all of which are low-impact, which is ideal for aging joints and bones. Stretching and strengthening activities such as yoga and tai chi are also recommended.