Share this page:
Other services (opens in new window)
Sets a cookie

New research could hold the key to keeping older people fit for longer

Visit SPARC website

11 September 2008

A carefully framed combination of moderate exercise and nutritional supplements could help older people maintain an active lifestyle for longer.

A Manchester Metropolitan University study has found that taking carbohydrate and protein supplements just before and just after low-resistance exercise could boost muscle performance and slow muscle wastage in people over retirement age.

Moreover, this combination appears to deliver greater fitness benefits than undertaking heavy-resistance training with or without changing one’s nutritional habits.

This was the first-ever study of the combination of structured exercise and nutritional supplements to focus wholly on older people. Undertaken as part of the SPARC (Strategic Promotion of Ageing Research Capacity) initiative, the findings will be discussed at this year’s BA Festival of Science in Liverpool on Thursday 11th September. SPARC is supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

This groundbreaking study involved a carefully selected sample of around 60 healthy, independent-living adults aged 65 and over.

The volunteers were randomly divided into groups who underwent different 12 week programmes of physical exercise and nutritional supplementation. Everyone was then re-assessed at the end of the programme.

Some groups undertook low-resistance exercise once a week; others undertook high-resistance exercise twice a week. Within each group, some of the volunteers took protein and carbohydrate supplements while others did not.

When all the participants were re-assessed at the end of the 12 week programme, it was observed that muscle size and strength had increased in all groups.

However, the results suggested that older people would derive the most benefits if they took appropriate supplements coupled with low-intensity exercise.

"Maintaining muscle performance and arresting muscle wastage can offer older people real improvements in their quality of life," says Dr Gladys Pearson, who led the research. "Though we still need to assess precisely what level of exercise gives the best results, we believe we’ve shown that regular low-resistance exercise complemented by the right nutritional supplements could boost the well-being of the UK’s ageing population."

Dr Pearson and her team now aim to look at the effectiveness of novel combinations of strength training and nutritional supplementation as a way of speeding recovery and improving mobility for old and young orthopaedic surgery patients.

ENDS

Notes to editors

The 12-month study ‘Healthy Diet v Dietary Supplementation: Improving Physical Fitness and Quality of Life in Older People’ received financial support from SPARC of £28,245. Additional support was received from Manchester Metropolitan University.

The Research Councils are taking this area of research forward through the cross-Council programme on Life Long Health and Wellbeing, which includes the Medical Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council in addition to BBSRC and EPSRC.

The BA Festival of Science will take place in Liverpool from 6-11 September bringing over 350 of the UK’s top scientists and engineers to discuss the latest developments in science with the public. In addition to talks and debates at the University of Liverpool, there will be a host of events happening throughout the city as part of the European Capital of Culture celebrations. For more information about the BA Festival of Science, including an online programme, visit http://www.britishscienceassociation.org/web/BritishScienceFestival/

Dr Gladys Pearson will be giving a presentation on Thursday 11th September at The Foresight Centre, University of Liverpool (see http://www.foresightcentre.co.uk). This will form part of the ‘Older People Going Places’ event organised by SPARC which will run from 1.30pm on this date. Dr Pearson will also be taking part in a press conference at 10.45am on 11th September where she will be discussing her work.

An image is available from the EPSRC Press office, see contact below.
Image caption: Exercise in research: the study found that older people could benefit more from lower-resistance exercise than higher-resistance work.

About SPARC

SPARC is a unique initiative supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to encourage the greater involvement of researchers in the many issues faced by an ageing population and encountered by older people in their daily lives. SPARC is directed, managed and informed by the broader community of researchers, practitioners, policy makers and older people for the ultimate benefit of older people, their carers and those who provide services to older people.

About EPSRC

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. The EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC also actively promotes public awareness of science and engineering. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. http://www.epsrc.ac.uk

About BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £420M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk

About the BA Festival of Science

The BA Festival of Science 2008 is being organised by the BA (British Association for the Advancement of Science) in partnership with the University of Liverpool. It is supported by the Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills, the Liverpool Culture Company and the Northwest Regional Development Agency.

About the BA

The BA (British Association for the Advancement of Science) is the UK's nationwide, open membership organisation that exists to advance the public understanding, accessibility and accountability of the sciences and engineering. Established in 1831, the BA organises major initiatives across the UK, including National Science and Engineering Week, the annual BA Festival of Science, programmes of regional and local events, and an extensive programme for young people in schools and colleges. The BA also organises specific activities for the science communication community in the UK through its Science in Society programme. For more information, please visit http://www.britishscienceassociation.org/

External contact

Dr Gladys Pearson, Department of Exercise & Sport Science, Manchester Metropolitan University

tel: 0161 247 5594

Judy Moreton, EPSRC Press Office

tel: 01793 413084

Contact

Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299

Tracey Jewitt, Media Officer

tel: 01793 414694
fax: 01793 413382