Anni Rava, PhD student at the University of Tartu, explained that in an area where the population is aging, health costs are rising and proportion of working population is diminishing, physical activity could be one strategy to maintain people’s good health and independence in old age. “Most of the population is not aware that physical abilities like endurance, strength, coordination and power are essential for everyday activities, especially later in life,” she explains.
Rava added that aging causes fat mass increase and muscle mass decrease, often without concurrent changes in body mass and body mass index. As the body mass remains the same but muscle mass and strength decrease, individuals may experience mobility disorders, increased risk of falling, impaired ability to perform daily activities and therefore loss of independence. “I think that physical activity and exercising are more associated with keeping body mass in a normal range and reducing the risk of diseases that are contributed to excess fat mass. Yet, physical exercising is more than just a part of a healthy lifestyle, it helps to maintain strength, power, coordination and balance, which you need in everyday life,” she says.
In her doctoral thesis, Ms Rava focuses on researching connections between the health of older women and regular physical exercising. In the near future, an article about the conclusions of her primary research will appear in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity.
Body Mass Index differs, Bone Mineral Density remains the Same
In the primary research 32 women were studied; 22 of them exercised regularly at least twice a week (at least 60 minutes per session) and 10 of them less than that. While regularly exercising women had a lower body mass, lower body mass index and lower whole-body fat mass, then, surprisingly, fat-free mass did not differ between the studied groups.
Additionally, bone mineral density was similar in regularly exercising and inactive women. Both groups had similar results for handgrip strength; however, regularly exercising women showed significantly higher values for leg muscle strength and leg muscle quality. Muscle quality characterises a combination of muscle functionality and muscle mass.
Regularly exercising women had significantly better results in mobility tests, which are indicators for balance, strength and endurance. “The main result of this study indicates that long-term regular exercising could decrease age-related changes in lower extremity muscle strength and mobility, and therefore facilitates maintaining the independence of healthy older women,” says Rava.
Professor of kinesiology and biomechanics at University of Tartu, Mati Pääsuke, adds that based on the results of the research it is possible to give recommendations for maintaining motor abilities. “While planning regular exercising—both endurance and gymnastics training—it is important to pay attention to maintaining mobility and muscle quality both in the upper and lower extremities,” he explains.
Many Plans for Further Research
In order to generalize the conclusions, the researchers’ group has already started to recruit more participants to the study. Professor Pääsuke said that they plan to gather data about older women who have done endurance training or gymnastics regularly for a long time. “We want to analyse the impact of both training types to the body and find out the differences,” he says.
The other course of action is longitudinal research to find out changes in the body composition, motor abilities and biochemical indicators of both active and inactive older women in three years. Ms Rava has already started to register the biochemical indicators in the blood of the study participants.
This article was supported by the European Regional Development Fund through Estonian Research Council.