Researchers seek to prevent frailty with strength training

Two physiotherapists in Ontario have teamed up and secured funding from the Canadian Frailty Network (CFN) to challenge this perception. They aim to show not only that older people are perfectly capable of building strength safely, but that they can also prevent themselves from becoming frail—or more frail—in the process.

“We need to be proactive with people at risk of slipping into frailty,” says Dr. Ada Tang, a physiotherapist and associate professor in the School of Rehabilitation Sciences at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. “If we intervene with well-designed strength training programs, we can help people who might otherwise become frail to maintain their mobility and independence. It’s much harder to bring someone back once they are already frail.”

The idea of preventing frailty by putting older people on strength training programs came to Dr. Tang from Christina Prevett, a community-based physiotherapist now located in Kingston, Ontario. Prevett had noticed, while working in a gym in Mississauga, that older people recovering from orthopedic surgery made great improvements in their mobility and pain if they stuck with their workouts and continually challenged themselves with ever-more intense workouts.

“There’s a great hesitation among physiotherapists and personal trainers to get older people lifting relatively heavy weights,” Prevett remarks. “But the body continually adapts and requires progressively more intense demands to become stronger at any age.”