Frailty is not inevitable in old age, scientists believe after, finding that people with a healthy heart do not succumb to weakness in later life.
New research has shown that older people with very low risk of heart disease also have very little frailty, raising the possibility it is preventable.
The largest study of its kind, led by the University of Exeter, found that even small reductions in heart disease risk factors – such as high blood pressure and cholesterol – helped to reduce frailty, as well as dementia, chronic pain, and other disabling conditions of old age.
Researchers said many perceive frailty to be an inevitable consequence of ageing – but their study found it was 85 per cent less likely in those with near ideal cardiovascular risk factors.
And the findings show that people with good heart health were also less likely to have other age-related conditions, such as chronic pain, incontinence, falls, fractures and dementia.
Lead author of the study Dr Joao Delgado, of the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “This study indicates that frailty and other age-related diseases could be prevented and significantly reduced in older adults.
“Getting our heart risk factors under control could lead to much healthier old ages.
“Unfortunately, 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.”
The study analysed data from more than 421,000 people aged 60 to 69 from both their GP medical records and in the UK Biobank research study. Participants were followed up over 10 years.
The team looked at six factors that could impact on heart health – uncontrolled high blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels, plus being overweight, doing little physical activity and being a current smoker.
Joint lead author, Dr Janice Atkins, also of the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “A quarter (26 per cent) of participants from UK Biobank, made of predominantly healthy volunteers, had near perfect cardiovascular risk factors compared to only 2.4 per cent of the population via GP records.
“This highlights the huge potential for improvement in cardiovascular risk factors of the general population in the UK.”
The research was published in The Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.