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  • Physical Activity May Decrease Mortality Risk in Frail Older Adults, Say Researchers

    While previous research has found that physical exercise decreases fall risk and improves mobility, researchers at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM) in Spain wondered whether physical activity could reduce frailty-associated mortality risk. In their study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, authors found that physical activity decreased mortality rates for healthy, prefrail, and frail adults over age 60.

    Authors used data from a nationally representative sample of 3,896 community-dwelling individuals to explore any “separate and joint associations between physical activity and frailty” and all-cause and cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality rates.

    At baseline, in 2000–2001, researchers interviewed participants at home about their “leisure-time” physical activity: inactive, occasional, several times a month, or several times a week. They administered both the Fatigue, Resistance, Ambulation, Illness, and weight Loss (FRAIL) scale and 3 items from the 36-item Short-Form Health Survey (SF-36) to measure frailty, fatigue, resistance, ambulation, and weight loss. Participants also were asked whether they had been diagnosed with pneumonia, asthma or chronic bronchitis, hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis or rheumatism, diabetes mellitus, depression under drug treatment, hip fracture, Parkinson disease, or cancer.

    Based on their answers, participants were categorized as “robust,” “prefrail,” or “more frail.”

    In 2014, authors determined that 1,801 total deaths had occurred, including 672 from cardiovascular disease.

    After adjusting for sex, age, education, alcohol use, smoking, BMI, waist circumference, and mental status, researchers found:

    • Prefrail individuals were 26% more likely as robust individuals to die of any cause, with frail individuals more than twice as likely to die of any cause compared with robust individuals.
    • Prefrail individuals were 40% more likely and frail individuals 2.32 times as likely as robust participants to die of CVD.
    • Fatigue, low resistance, limitations in ambulation, and weight loss were significantly correlated with higher all-cause and CVD mortality rates.
    • Being physically active decreased all-cause mortality by 18% in robust, 28% in prefrail, and 39% in frail individuals.
    • Participants who were frail and inactive were 2.45 as likely as robust, physically active individuals to die of any cause.
    • Risk of all-cause and CVD mortality in frail, physically active individuals was similar to that of prefrail, inactive participants.
    • Prefrail, active individuals had all-cause and CVD mortality similar to robust, inactive participants.

    This study, authors write, is the first to examine the effects of physical activity on mortality risk in frail and prefrail older adults. Authors speculate that physical activity contributes to longevity by helping to reduce chronic disease and falls and increase balance, strength, agility, and gait speed. This, they conclude, highlights the importance of future research on “the effectiveness of mobility programs to reduce mortality in frail older adults.”

    Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.