WHILE nothing can stop the ageing process, a Hunter study hopes to slow it down by setting people up for a healthier - and stronger - future.
Researchers at HMRI hope to prove that nutrition and lifestyle changes in people over 65 can reduce their risk of developing sarcopenia - an involuntary, age-related loss of muscle mass that can lead to falls, injuries, and a decreased lifespan.
"It happens naturally as you get older," HMRI researcher, Professor Lisa Wood, said. "The body becomes less able to maintain muscle and less able to make new muscle. But people who have certain lifestyle factors - if they don't exercise regularly, or they don't eat well - have an increased risk of developing sarcopenia."
Professor Wood said it was a "common phenomena" that once people had a significant fall, their risk of death went "through the roof".
"And that's the sort of thing that happens once you lose muscle mass, because you don't have the same control over your body, so it is much easier to trip and stumble and not be able to catch yourself, because you don't have the strength," she said.
"There is always going to be some level of decline with aging, but if we can catch people who have these risky lifestyle factors, and teach them some new habits, hopefully that will help set them up for a healthier older age."
Professor Wood said the STRONG study was a "great opportunity" for people over 65 to receive a free tailored exercise and nutrition intervention over a four month period.
"After a physio assessment, they get instructions on the resistance exercises they have to do four times a week at home, which take about half an hour to do. At the same time, they are given nutritional advice and a supplement," Professor Wood said. "A lot of people sort of know they are not exercising enough. And they sort of know they are probably not eating well, but they don't have the tools to do anything about it.
"Often younger people would go to the gym, but in this age group, that's something that can be quite foreign to a lot of people.
"They know they could go for a walk, but in terms of building and maintaining muscle tissue, you need to be doing some resistance work. That's why weights are part of the program."
Isobel Stoodley, a PhD student working on the study, said a recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report showed 84 per cent of older adults did no strength-based activities.
"This is a really unique opportunity to teach them something they have never done before, but something they stand to get a lot of benefit from," Ms Stoodley said.
"The feedback from participants has been really positive so far. They can feel themselves getting stronger. Everyone has had some benefit."
Body composition and different strength measurements would be taken at the beginning, middle and end of the study to track any changes. Weights and resistance exercises would be adjusted by the study's physio throughout the program.
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