Frailty: Not a Part of Aging

Frailty: Not a Part of Aging

Frailty is a risk factor for poor quality of life, falls, functional decline and more—but it’s reversible and avoidable.

When Hamlet declares “Frailty, thy name is woman,” (he’s criticizing his mother’s—and all women’s—character as weak), it’s clear that he’d never run into anyone like Dr. Mike’s wife Nancy, Dr. Oz’s wife Lisa, or Lindsey Vonn, Venus Williams or Elizabeth Warren.

These days, we know women can conquer physical and mental challenges as well as men (and sometimes better). And we know frailty isn’t a word to be used casually to describe a person—female or male—like the color of their hair or height.

Frailty is a medical condition that’s usually defined as meeting any three of these five characteristics:

  • low physical activity
  • weak grip strength
  • low energy
  • slow walking speed
  • non-deliberate weight loss

Frailty is a risk factor for poor quality of life, falls, functional decline and disability, long-term care need and finally death, within a two-year window.

It’s also an increasing problem globally. A study published in JAMA Open Network looked at 46 studies of more than 120,000 people in 28 countries and found around 4.3 percent of folks 60 and older will develop frailty annually. That adds up to a lot of people (340 million+) over a decade. The good news is that it’s avoidable and reversible.

Regular physical activity, including 10,000 steps a day and two to three 30-minute strength-building sessions weekly, are the basic tools to fight frailty.

  • If you’re a slow walker, set reasonable goals and build endurance and your step count. If you can walk five blocks in 10 minutes, try to shave one minute off your time after every seven walks with the goal of eventually covering one (normal size) block in 60-90 seconds or five blocks in five to seven-and-a-half minutes.
  • Muscle-strengthening workouts are essential to counter the loss of muscle mass that can come with age. We advocate stretch bands and hand weights. Start light; it’s repetitions not heavy loads that get results.
  • Stand up! Sitting around robs you of energy and strength, even if you’re beginning to walk more. Get up every 30 minutes and walk outside, jump in place or take a flight of stairs.
  • If you need physical therapy for arthritic joints or sore/inflamed tissues, check with your doc.

Weight management is also very important, since excess pounds make mobility difficult, strain joints, increase depression and lead to a wide range of chronic diseases from obesity to diabetes, heart disease and cancer. If you’re overweight or have a waist circumference of 35 or greater for gals or 40 or greater for guys, you need to adopt a nutritional plan that will help burn fat. The What to Eat When diet plan (on and is an effective approach that combines tasty food choices with the timing of your meals. Tip: Make it at least 12 hours between your last meal of the day and your first.

The basics: Aim for around seven ounces of protein a day, four servings of carbs, up to four tablespoons of EVOO, 1 ounce of nuts, and/or half an avocado and unlimited non-starchy vegetable. Not losing the weight you would like? Try cutting back a little on carbs or fats and adding more vegetables.

Other smart ways to battle frailty include increasing social interaction through clubs, family or volunteering. The psychological boost and happiness that comes from helping others and having a network of support can empower your attempt to increase physical activity and lose weight.

Also, don’t shy away from using assistive devices. We know it can be tough sometimes to acknowledge that a cane or walker might be the key to getting in those daily steps and interacting with the world. But Dr. Mike’s mother-in-law reached the age of 100 by recovering from a fall with vigorous physical therapy and a willingness to use a walker… then a cane… and ultimately, nothing at all. If a 100-year-old can do it, so can you.

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