Physical strength declines early as we grow old

New York: Physical strength begins to decline sooner in life than typically detected, often when people are still in their 50s, according to a study.

It suggested that efforts to maintain basic strength and endurance should begin before age 50, when it’s still possible to preserve the skills that keep people mobile and independent later in life.

“Typically, functional tests are conducted on people in their 70s and 80s, and by then you’ve missed 40 years of opportunities to remedy problems,” said Miriam C. Morey, researcher, Duke University School of Medicine in the study published in the journal Duke Health.

The researchers studied a group of 775 participants and enrolled participants ranging in age from their 30s through their 100s, with broad representation across sexes and races.

All participants performed the same simple tasks to demonstrate strength, endurance or balance: rising from a chair repeatedly for 30 seconds; standing on one leg for a minute; and walking for six minutes. Additionally, their walking speed was measured over a distance of about 10 yards.

Men generally performed better than women on the tasks and younger people outperformed older participants.

But the age at which decline in physical abilities began to appear (decade of the 50s) — were consistent regardless of gender or other demographic features, the study revealed.

Both men and women in that mid-life decade began to slip in their ability to stand on one leg and rise from a chair.

The decline continued through the next age groups. Further differences in aerobic endurance and gait speed were observed beginning with participants in their 60s and 70s.

The study provides physical ability benchmarks that could be easily performed and measured in clinical exams, providing a way to detect problems earlier.

“People often misinterpret ‘ageing’ to mean ‘aged’ and that issues of functional independence aren’t important until later in life. The good news is that with proper attention and effort, the ability to function independently can often be preserved with regular exercise,” said Katherine S. Hall, Assistant Professor, Duke University School of Medicine.