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Seniors: The Time Is Nigh to Be Spry

Seniors: The Time Is Nigh to Be Spry: Main Image

Two new studies highlight the importance once again of keeping in shape later in life.

Two new studies published in the Archives of Internal Medicine highlight the importance once again of keeping in shape later in life. Together, they show that engaging in regular physical exercise can help make completing everyday tasks easier, enhance brain function, and slow down the decline in health-related quality of life in seniors--even those who are highly out of shape (deconditioned).

Weights beat flexibility for better brain function

The first study looked at 155 women, 65 to 75 years old. The women were assigned to weight training (resistance exercise) programs one or two times per week, or to twice-weekly balance-and-tone exercises, such as stretching, core strength, and balance exercises for one year. The investigators measured the women's selective attention, conflict-resolution skills, memory, and walking pace (gait speed).

Women in both resistance training groups significantly improved their selective attention and conflict resolution skills compared with women in the balance and tone group. While memory didn't seem to improve with either exercise program, women whose selective attention and conflict resolution improved also began to walk faster. This is important, as "improved gait speed is a predictor of substantial reduction in mortality," said the study's authors.

It's never too late

Since no recommendations have been made about exercise programs to prevent decline in quality of life in deconditioned older people, the second study looked at 160 men and women aged 65 years and older who were living in assisted care facilities. Many of the people were very out of shape and some had "neuropsychiatric" conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, dementia, or depression.

One of the regimens was an adapted tai chi program that took place four times per week for 30 minutes. Tai chi, a Chinese martial art, can help improve balance, flexibility, and strength. The second regimen was called a "cognition-action" program that was individually tailored to help the people complete their daily activities. This group met two times per week for 30 to 45 minutes. A control group received usual care, with no instruction in exercise.

The six-month study found that the ability to walk, be continent, and maintain proper nutrition were better preserved in the intervention groups than in the control group. While measures of neuropsychiatric health declined in the control group, they remained steady or improved in the intervention groups.

"Overall these results indicated that severely deconditioned elderly patients with various neuropsychiatric diagnoses and health conditions could all benefit from adapted exercise programs," commented that study's authors.

(Arch Intern Med 2010;170:170-8; Arch Intern Med 2010; 170:162-9)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI, and now sees patients in East Greenwich and Wakefield. Inspired by her passion for healthful eating and her own young daughters, Dr. Beauchamp is currently writing a book about optimizing children's health through better nutrition.
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