Numerous studies demonstrate that increased exercise in the elderly reduces mortality risk and improves many measures of health. The glass half empty view of these results is that most people in wealthy, technological societies are not exercising sufficiently, and thus sabotaging their health. This conclusion is supported by the reduced presence of many of the characteristic aspects of age-related decline observed in hunter-gatherer populations, despite comparatively poor access to medical support throughout life. Exercise too little, and the result is that the decline into frailty is faster and greater than it might be. No-one can yet choose to avoid aging, as that will require rejuvenation biotechnologies, but it nonetheless still possible to choose poorly in life, in ways that will make aging notably worse.
The people participating in this research participated in a controlled, personalised programme of strength, balance, and walking exercises adapted to their possibilities, even during the acute phase of their diseases. Depending on the status of each patient, training intensity ranging between 30% and 60% of their muscular capacity was specified, so they did leg and arm exercises. These sessions lasted twenty minutes twice a day (morning and afternoon), over between five and seven consecutive days (including weekends and public holidays) under the individual supervision of experts in the field of physical exercise for the elderly.
The results of the study show that when discharged from hospital, the group that had participated in the prescribed programme of exercise achieved, in comparison with those who had not done it, a total of 2.2 points above the average on a maximum score of 12 in the SPPB (Short Physical Performance Battery) functional assessment tool, which measures balance, walking speed and leg strength, and 6.9 points above the average score in the Barthel Functional Index for Activities of Daily Living, which has a maximum score of 100 points. "Until now, no one had suggested that patients of this type (elderly people with a range of diseases) could benefit in just five days from a personalised exercise programme far removed from the usual message of 'get up and walk along the corridor a little' or 'rest in bed or in an armchair.´"
Significant benefits of the intervention from the cognitive and life quality perspective were also found. These improvements were achieved without any side effects or increase in hospital stay. "Nevertheless, this intervention did not change the rate of re-admittance or mortality three months later. In such an elderly population as those in the study and with a theoretically short life expectancy following hospitalisation, the aim of our intervention was not to increase the quantity but the quality of life. Sometimes we believe that improvements in technologies or the latest innovative treatment can provide all the solutions for our problems, but we are not aware that disability generated by hospitalisation may exert a greater impact than the very disease that prompted admittance in the first place. In this respect the hugely positive effect that physical exercise can have on disease prevention and treatment is reiterated."