New research finds physical decline due to ageing starts younger than expected

Physical activity should be started sooner rather later if adults want to maintain good health as they age, according to new research from Duke University. — AFP pic
Physical activity should be started sooner rather later if adults want to maintain good health as they age, according to new research from Duke University. — AFP pic

NEW YORK, July 22 — Physical decline in US adults starts earlier than previously thought, and physical activity should be started sooner rather later to maintain mobility and independence as we age according to new research from Duke University.

The new study, from the University’s School of Medicine, looked at a group of 775 participants enrolled in the Measurement to Understand the Reclassification of Disease Of Cabarrus/Kannapolis (MURDOCK) Study, a longitudinal clinical research study that includes more than 12,000 participants and nearly 460,000 biological specimens.

The study looked at both men and women and included a variety of races, with participants ranging in age from their 30s right through to their 100s.

To assess their physical abilities all participants were asked to perform a series of simple tasks to demonstrate their strength, endurance or balance.

Tasks included rising from a chair repeatedly for 30 seconds, standing on one leg for a minute, and walking for six minutes. Walking speed also was measured over a distance of around 10 yards.

The results showed that in general, men performed better than women and younger participants performed better than their elders, however regardless of gender or other demographic factors, a physical decline began to appear once participants had entered their 50s.

The most common problem seen at this age was a reduced ability to stand on one leg and rise from a chair. A physical decline continued to be seen over the following decades, with reduced aerobic endurance and gait speed beginning once participants had entered their 60s and 70s.

Despite most studies in this area including only seniors, the new research suggests that physical ability can be maintained by starting exercise earlier rather than later in life, and provides physical ability benchmarks that can be easily performed by participants and easily measured in order to detect problems earlier.

Miriam C. Morey, PhD, senior fellow in the Centre for the Study of Ageing and Human Development at Duke University School of Medicine commented on the findings saying, “Typically, functional tests are conducted on people in their 70s and 80s, and by then you’ve missed 40 years of opportunities to remedy problems,” with lead author Katherine S. Hall also adding that, “Our research reinforces a life-span approach to maintaining physical ability — don’t wait until you are 80 years old and cannot get out of a chair.”

“People often misinterpret ‘ageing’ to mean ‘aged’, and that issues of functional independence aren’t important until later in life,” continued Hall, “This bias can exist among researchers and healthcare providers, too. The good news is, with proper attention and effort, the ability to function independently can often be preserved with regular exercise.” — AFP-Relaxnews

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