Although weight loss can give a health boost to those struggling with obesity, weight loss in the elderly can prompt an acceleration of age-related loss of muscle and bone mass.
However new research carried out by a team at Baylor College of Medicine has found that weight loss through calorie restriction can have health benefits for seniors when done in combination with specific exercises.
"The prevalence of obesity in the elderly population is rapidly increasing, and the appropriate management of obesity in the elderly is still controversial," said first author Dr. Dennis Villareal, "Although weight loss is the first line of treatment for obesity in general, weight loss in the elderly population is not uniformly accepted. This is because there is a potential to worsen their frailty," he added.
The team followed 141 obese participants aged 65 and older for a period of 26 weeks.
To be eligible all participants needed to have evidence of mild to moderate frailty, as measured by the Physical Performance Test.
The test simulates nine different activities of daily living, including walking 50 feet, putting on and removing a coat, picking up a penny, standing up from a chair, lifting a book, and climbing one flight of stairs.
All participants followed a weight-management program and were randomly assigned to one of three exercise programs -- aerobic training, resistance training, or combined aerobic and resistance training -- or to a control group with no weight-management or exercise program.
Results showed that those who were placed in the combined aerobic and resistance training group showed the greatest improvements in their physical function after weight loss, with some scoring high enough on the Physical Performance Test to no longer be considered frail.
In addition those who engaged in the combination training also benefited in four other areas, showing improvements in strength and peak oxygen consumption -- a marker of physical fitness -- and reduced loss of lean muscle mass and bone mineral density.
Those in the resistance-only group showed a increase in strength and a reduced decrease in lean muscle mass and bone mineral density compared to the aerobic-only group, while those in the aerobic-only group saw an improvement in peak oxygen consumption.
Body weight also decreased by 9% in all exercise groups, but did not change significantly in the control group.
"The most important message of this study is that it is never too late in life to change habits and unhealthy lifestyles," concluded .
The results of the study can be found online published in the New England Journal of Medicine.