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Lifestyle changes can halve risk of life-threatening frailty in old age, new study finds

Quitting smoking and doing more exercise can cut the chances of becoming frail in later years by more than half, according to new research led by De Montfort University Leicester (DMU). 

A team of researchers, led by Dr Nils Niederstrasser, together with experts from UCL and St George’s University, Grenada, studied data collected by the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA), which collects information from people aged over 50 to understand aspects of growing old.


The study has been running since 2002, giving Dr Niederstrasser’s team a large database to analyse.

They found that a person with an average age of 67, who takes part in mild physical activity or is sedentary and is a current or previous smoker had a 59% chance of becoming frail by the time they were 79.

In contrast, a person of the same age, who took part in moderate or vigorous physical activity, who had never smoked had a 22% chance of becoming frail over the same period.

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Although there is no fixed medical definition of frailty, Dr Niederstrasser said that frailty was defined using an index made up of 56 indicators of healthy ageing, including chronic diseases, difficulties with carrying out tasks of daily living and cognition, mobility and disability, depressive symptoms, and cognitive function.


Dr Niederstrasser said these findings – published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE - allowed his team to predict which patients were likely to develop frailty and therefore benefit from interventions to decrease the chances of it progressing.

He said: “Once people become frail they are at high risk of catastrophic declines in health and function. We wanted to see if we could push the age at which people become frail so they can enjoy better quality life for longer.

“In order to do this we needed to know which individuals were predisposed to becoming frail and which lifestyle choices they were making which might accelerate this.

“The results of this work will allow us to develop simple guidelines which we can distribute and help to reduce the onset of frailty in older people.”

Dr. Nina Rogers, research associate at UCL and co-author of the research, said: "These findings are very relevant in the context of an ageing population and emphasise the importance of lifestyle in order to mitigate the risk and severity of frailty as we age"

Posted on Thursday 31st October 2019

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