A lot of people associate old age with loss of speed, strength, energy, and mobility; aka frailty. But according to a growing number of physicians—including internist and geriatrician Ava Kaufman—that doesn't have to be the case. "Frailty is not an age, it's a condition," says Kaufman. Like any medical condition, it's characterized by a group of symptoms that occur together. Although the elderly are more susceptible to frailty, old age is not a guarantee that one will end up frail.
Inflammation Increases Risk of Frailty
Americans are living longer, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're living healthier. About 4% of men and 7% of women over age 65 are frail, but that number rises sharply to about 25% after age 85. Women are more likely to be frail because they have less muscle mass and are more prone to bone loss. Researchers believe that there are a number of underlying reasons why an individual can become frail. Inflammation, for example, can weaken bones and muscles. The inability to process glucose can also lead to a buildup of the stress hormone, cortisol, which also damages skeletal muscle and weakens the immune system.
Staying Active Is Key to Being Healthier
However, researchers point out that many preliminary studies show that moderate physical activity may help reduce walking problems and improve mobility. Exercise need not be strenuous, especially if a patient's joints and muscles are already weak. Instead of high-impact jogging, for example, a person can opt for a slow-paced, 30-minute walk and light weights. Many frail individuals are also malnourished, so their bodies lack the basic nutrients to support their bone and muscle health. That's why nutritious eating habits are a must not only for the young and active, but anyone who wants to maintain a long, healthy lifestyle. Age brings greater responsibility and wisdom, but it doesn't have to include weakness and poorer health, especially if you start practicing healthier habits when you're younger.
- Cimons M. Frailty is a medical condition, not an inevitable result of aging. The Washington Post. https://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-12-10/national/35745657_1_frailty-frail-people-medical-condition
- Kaiser M et al. Frailty and the role of nutrition in older people. A review of the current literature. Acta Biomed. 2010;81 Suppl 1:37-45.