Study to help over-65s stay STRONGer

Feb 18 2019

Professor Lisa Wood and Isobel Stoodley

Free hand weights, a personalised resistance exercise program, professional dietary advice and a tailored nutrition intervention will be offered in a new clinical trial at the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI), aimed at helping over-65s build muscle strength and reduce falls.

University of Newcastle researcher Professor Lisa Wood received a $700,000 grant to conduct the ‘STRONG’ study, an investigator-led trial designed for those at risk of developing sarcopenia, a degenerative loss of muscle mass associated with ageing.

“The people we’re recruiting have low activity levels, poor-quality diets and are aged 65 and over, so they have a high risk of developing sarcopenia,” Professor Wood explained. “That means they’re more likely to have a fall, and once they fall their mortality risk increases greatly.

“It’s important for us to focus on strategies that will prevent hospitalisations, with more people living longer but not necessarily living well. By intervening at an early stage, we can hopefully improve body composition, minimise the impact of sarcopenia and keep people healthier for longer.”

The resistance program comprises 30-minute sessions, four times a week, using five different strength-building exercises for the arms, shoulders, back and legs. These can be done alone at home, even in front of the TV. The study physiotherapist will modify activities to factor in orthopaedic or health restrictions.

“Older people often like exercises such as walking, but they don’t realise how important resistance exercises are for building muscle tissue,” study coordinator Isobel Stoodley said. “They think gyms are for younger generations, yet they’re generally quite keen to exercise in their own home.”

Progress will be monitored with fortnightly calls and monthly visits to the HMRI Building.

Participants in the four-month trial will be randomised to two different nutrition interventions, both of which will complement the exercise intervention. Regardless, everyone will benefit from a personal assessment by an accredited dietitian.

“Some older people are in that mindset of having a cup of tea and biscuit for dinner if they’re not hungry. They don’t have a great deal of knowledge about healthy diets, so we aim to improve that,” Professor Wood added. “We’re hoping this will have long-term benefits, so everyone can also keep the hand weights and continue exercising and eating more healthily after the trial.”

STRONG is open to non-smokers, 65 and over. Numbers are limited so please contact isobel.stoodley@uon.edu.au or phone (02) 4985 4563.

* The STRONG trial is being conducted by Professor Lisa Wood, Dr Bronwyn Berthon, Dr Hayley Scott, Penelope Chan and Isobel Stoodley from the University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Health. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.