Low-intensity exercise reduces the risk of sarcopenia in older adults

Low-intensity exercise reduces the risk of sarcopenia in older adults

As little as ten minutes of low-intensity exercise per day can reduce the risk of sarcopenia in older adults, according to research from Örebro University.

Sarcopenia is the medical term for the loss of muscle mass, strength, and physical function as part of ageing. Sarcopenia often leads to lower quality of life, increased risk of falling and lower metabolism.

Researchers studied the link between low–intensity exercises, such as slow walking and light gardening, and the loss of muscle mass in older adults. For the purposes of the study, titled ‘Physical activity, muscle mass and physical function in older adults‘, 235 adults aged between 65 to 70 years replaced ten minutes of sedentary activities with low-intensity physical activity every day.

Muscle-strengthening activities work best against sarcopenia

“Light-intensity exercise is enough to significantly reduce the risk for older adults to develop sarcopenia. The risk decreases further in the model where sedentary time is replaced by ten minutes of daily moderate- to high-intensity physical activity,” said Jort Veen, who led the study.

The researchers examined how muscle-strengthening activities, such as strength training and yoga, affected muscle mass, muscle strength, physical performance and sarcopenia risk. The participants already engaged in moderate- to high-intensity aerobic exercise for at least 2.5 hours per week.

Moderate-intensity exercise included activity that raised the heart rate and breathing. High-intensity physical activity was defined as exercise that led to a considerable increase in heart rate and breathing.

The findings revealed that muscle-strengthening activities, performed at least twice a week, were associated with larger muscle mass and a lower risk of developing sarcopenia.

“Our studies support the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation to engage in muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week. Strength training, such as working out with weights, resistance bands and body weight or doing yoga exercises, have a positive impact on both muscle strength and muscle mass. But at least two muscle-strengthening workouts per week are required to prevent muscle loss,” said Veen.

Five hours of exercise per week is recommended

Veen’s thesis also suggests that exercising regularly during late middle age, between 50 and 65, is important in reducing the risk of sarcopenia. Regular exercise leads to larger muscle mass and a higher level of aerobic fitness later on in life. “This is particularly important for maintaining muscle mass as you get older,” he said.

According to WHO recommendations for physical activity, older adults should complete at least 2.5 hours of moderate to high-intensity physical activity per week. One of the conclusions included in Veen’s doctoral thesis is that physical performance levels in older adults that are active for at least five hours per week are higher than that of their peers who engage in physical activity between 2.5 and five hours per week.

“Older adults who can be physically active for at least double the amount of time recommended as a minimum can improve their physical health. So, if you can exercise for more than five hours a week, then you should,” concluded Veen.

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