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West J Med. 1997 Oct;167(4):258-64.

Preserving mobility in older adults.

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Department of Health Services, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle 98195-8852, USA.


Age-related loss of strength contributes to impaired mobility and increases the risk of falls. Recent research has focused on 2 approaches to preventing age-related loss of strength--promoting physical activity and exercise (especially strength training) and using trophic factors to enhance muscle performance. Epidemiologic evidence strongly supports a role of regular physical activity in successful aging by preserving muscle performance, promoting mobility, and reducing fall risk. Randomized controlled trials provide convincing evidence that strength and endurance training improve muscle performance in older adults. Evidence is rapidly accumulating from randomized trials that endurance, strength, and balance training promote mobility and reduce fall risk, though exercise effects differ according to the type of exercise, details of the exercise program, and the target group of older adults. Because lifetime regular physical activity is recommended for all older adults, a reasonable strategy (especially for weak adults) is an activity program that includes strength training. In contrast, insufficient evidence exists to recommend the long-term use of trophic factors to preserve muscular performance. An intervention that merits additional study is avoiding the use of psychoactive drugs because drugs like benzodiazepines appear to be risk factors for inactivity and may have unrecognized direct effects on muscular performance. Because chronic illness is a risk factor for inactivity and disuse muscle atrophy, randomized trials comparing strength training with other interventions would be useful in understanding whether strength training has advantages in preserving muscle performance and improving health-related quality of life in a variety of chronic illnesses such as depressive illness.

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