Physical Activity May Not Reduce Frailty Risk, Despite Previous Evidence

Structured, moderate-intensity physical activity likely does not reduce the risk of frailty in older adults, despite limited evidence suggesting otherwise, according to a recent study.

For their study, the researchers evaluated 1635 community-dwelling adults with functional limitations at 8 centers in the United States. Patient age ranged from 70 to 89 years. Follow-up lasted 24 months.

Sedentary Time Linked to Increased Mortality Risk in Frail Adults
What Exercises Benefit Frailty Outcomes in Older Obese Adults?

Each patient was assigned to participate in either a structured, moderate-intensity physical activity program involving aerobic, resistance, and flexibility activities, or a health education program comprised of workshops and stretching exercises.

Frailty was measured at baseline and 6, 12, and 24 months based on the 3 criteria of the Study of Osteoporotic Fractures (SOF) index. Major mobility disability (MMD), defined as the inability to walk a quarter of a mile, was measured for up to 3.5 years.

Findings showed that there was no statistically significant difference in the risk for frailty (n = 1623) between groups (adjusted prevalence difference −0.021). In regard to SOF index criteria, participants in the physical activity intervention demonstrated improvement in the inability to rise from a chair (adjusted prevalence difference, −0.050). However, baseline frailty status was not associated with the effect of physical activity on reducing incident MMD.

“A structured, moderate-intensity physical activity program was not associated with a reduced risk for frailty over 2 years among sedentary, community-dwelling older adults,” the researchers concluded. “The beneficial effect of physical activity on the incidence of MMD did not differ between frail and nonfrail participants.

—Christina Vogt


Trombetti A, Hars M, Hsu FC, et al. Effect of physical activity on frailty: secondary analysis of a randomized controlled trial [Published online January 9, 2018]. Ann Intern Med. doi:10.7326/M16-2011.