Many frail older adults are thin, weak, and undernourished; this component of frailty remains a critical concern in the geriatric field. However, there is also strong evidence that excessive adiposity contributes to frailty by reducing the ability of older adults to perform physical activities and increasing metabolic instability. Our scoping review explores the impact of being obese on physical frailty in older adults by summarizing the state of the science for both clinical markers of physical function and biomarkers for potential underlying causes of obesity-related decline. We used the 5-stage methodological framework of Arksey and O'Malley to conduct a scoping review of randomized trials of weight loss and/or exercise interventions for obesity (body mass index > 30 kg/m2) in older adults (aged >60 years), examining the outcomes of inflammation, oxidative stress, and lipid accumulation in muscle, as well as direct measures of physical function. Our initial search yielded 212 articles; exclusion of cross-sectional and observational studies, cell culture and animal studies, disease-specific interventions, and articles published before 2001 led to a final result of 21 articles. Findings of these trials included the following major points. The literature consistently confirmed benefits of lifestyle interventions to physical function assessed at the clinical level. Generally speaking, weight loss alone produced a greater effect than exercise alone, and the best outcomes were achieved with a combination of weight loss and exercise, especially exercise programs that combined aerobic, resistance, and flexibility training. Weight loss interventions tended to reduce markers of inflammation and/or oxidative damage when more robust weight reduction was achieved and maintained over time, whereas exercise did not change markers of inflammation. However, participation in a chronic exercise program did reduce the oxidative stress induced by an acute bout of exercise. Weight loss interventions consistently reduced lipid accumulation in the muscle however, in response to exercise, 3 studies showed an increase and 2 a decrease in muscle lipid infiltration. In summary, this scoping review identified strong clinical evidence that weight reduction and/or exercise interventions can improve physical function and biomarkers of physical dysfunction among overweight/obese older adults, supporting the suggestion that excessive adiposity contributes to physical frailty. However, the evidence also suggests a complexity of metabolic influences, both systemically and within muscle, which has not been elucidated to date. Considerable further study is needed to examine the mechanisms by which lifestyle interventions influence physical frailty before the net impact of such interventions can be fully understood. © 2014 American Medical Directors Association, Inc.
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