Genes may thwart seniors' exercise gains

March 14, 2014

Keeping strong and physically fit is crucial to maintaining independence among the elderly. Exercise has repeatedly been shown to reduce or slow age-related declines in physical function and is a widely recommended for seniors, but the way that older people respond to exercise varies widely. A new study by Thomas W. Buford et al. examines the ACE I/D gene and whether its variations—the ID, DD, and II genotypes—impact some seniors' ability to fully reap the benefits of exercise.

Researchers followed 424 sedentary, mobility-limited seniors aged 70-89 for a year. Participants were randomly placed in a group that focused on either health education or . The health education group received ongoing presentations on eating right, how to properly use medication, and other information on maintaining a , but did not perform as part of the study. Seniors in the physical activity group were taught a variety of strength (e.g., squats and leg raises) and balance exercises and a walking program that they were encouraged to perform both in a group setting and at home.

The researchers measured changes in walking speed and participants' ability to perform other tasks such as getting up from a chair. They found that the physical activity intervention led to greater improvements walking speed among ID and DD genotype carriers (29.9% and 13.7% respectively). However, among II genotype carriers, health education alone led to more improvements in walking speed than physical activity intervention (20% vs. 18.5%). II carriers in the physical activity group also experienced smaller gains in lower body performance than those in the group.

These findings suggest that the ACE I/D genotype may be a significant factor in how well seniors respond to exercise. This insight could be used to develop more effective, individualized, and senior-friendly exercise recommendations for improving physical function and preventing in disability. The full study "Genetic influence on exercise-induced changes in physical function among mobility-limited older adults" is published in Physiological Genomics: physiolgenomics.physiology.org/content/46/5/149.full

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