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Seniors Need to Stay Fit

Strength and balance exercises benefit older adults

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 2, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Strength and balance exercises can help older adults stay mobile by slowing or preventing physical disability.

That's the claim of a study in tomorrow's issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

Yale University researchers found that frail elderly people following that kind of exercise program had a 45 percent reduction in disability after seven months.

"Our study provides strong evidence that functional decline among the most physically frail and aged persons can be slowed, if not prevented, with the kind of program used in our study," says principal investigator Dr. Thomas M. Gill, an associate professor of internal medicine and geriatrics at the Yale School of Medicine.

"The program focused on improving underlying impairments in muscle strength, balance and mobility," Gill says.

The study included 188 physically frail people, 75 years or older, living at home. Most of them had some form of disability at the beginning of the study.

Ninety-four of the participants received physical therapy in their homes. That therapy included daily balancing exercises lasting 10 to 15 minutes each, and muscle strength training with elastic resistance bands three days a week.

The other 94 people in the study were in a control group. They were given educational material on preventive health topics, including nutrition, vaccinations and proper footwear.

Both interventions lasted six months. The researchers did follow-up at seven months and one year. The people in the physical therapy group were asked to continue exercising for a full year, and they completed 75 percent to 80 percent of the exercises.

To measure the success of the two groups, Gill and his colleagues devised a scale to see how well each group managed eight essential daily activities, including walking, bathing, dressing, using the toilet, transferring from a chair, and eating and grooming.

Scores were assigned on a scale from 0 to 16. Higher scores indicated greater disability.

"At seven months, the average disability scores were 2.0 in the physical therapy group and 3.6 in the control group. This reflects a 45 percent reduction in disability for the physical therapy group relative to the control group. These results give weight to the role of 'prehabilitation' or preventive therapy for physically frail elderly persons living at home," Gill says.

That kind of approach could reduce nursing home and health-care costs for older adults, he says.

More information

To learn more about fitness and older adults, go to the U.S. Administration on Aging.

SOURCE: Yale University, news release, Oct. 2, 2002
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