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Improving cardiovascular health could 'prevent frailty in old age'

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Older people with very low cardiovascular disease risks also have very little frailty, according to UK researchers, who say it raises the possibility that frailty could be prevented.

The largest study of its kind, Exeter University researchers found that even small reductions in risk factors helped reduce frailty, as well as dementia, chronic pain, and other disabling conditions of old age.

“This study indicates that frailty and other age-related diseases could be prevented and significantly reduced”

João Delgado

It found that severe frailty was 85% less likely in those aged 60-69 with near ideal cardiovascular risk factors. It also found those with fewer cardiovascular risk factors were much less likely to have conditions unrelated to the heart, including chronic pain, incontinence, falls, fractures, and dementia.

The researchers analysed six factors that could have an impact on heart health – uncontrolled hypertension, high cholesterol and glucose levels, being overweight, doing little physical activity and being a current smoker.

They analysed data from 239,591 participants using GP medical records and 181,820 healthy volunteers. The more than 421,000 total participants were followed up over 10 years.

It is the first largescale study to show that older people with near-ideal cardiovascular risk factor profiles have better outcomes on a number of factors that are not directly linked to heart-disease.

“Optimising cardiovascular disease risk factors may substantially reduce the burden of morbidity in later life,” said the study authors in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.

“These findings are relevant to us all because they re-emphasise the importance of a healthy lifestyle”

Ivan Pavlov

The project, funded by the Medical Research Council and the National Institute for Health Research, also included US researchers from the University of Connecticut and the National Institute on Aging.

Joint study lead Dr João Delgado, from Exeter University, said: “This study indicates that frailty and other age-related diseases could be prevented and significantly reduced in older adults.

“The current obesity epidemic is moving the older population in the wrong direction, however our study underlines how even small reductions in risk are worthwhile,” he said.

Study author Dr George Kuchel, from Connecticut, said: “In the past, we viewed ageing and these common chronic diseases as being both inevitable and unrelated to each other.

“Now, our growing body of scientific evidence on ageing shows what we have previously considered as inevitable might be prevented or delayed through earlier and better recognition and treatment of cardiac disease,” he said.

“This overall approach working at the interface of ageing and varied chronic diseases could be transformative in helping adults to maintain function and independence in late life, adding life to their years as opposed to just years to their life,” he noted.

Dr Ivan Pavlov, from the Medical Research Council, said: “These findings are relevant to us all because they re-emphasise the importance of a healthy lifestyle for better quality of life in old age.

“These new results also show that age-related conditions may share common risk factors or mechanisms with cardiovascular diseases,” he added.

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