Short-term “prehabilitation” strength exercises, undertaken pre-surgery, are insufficient to prevent muscle loss, researchers in the University of Birmingham’s School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences suggest.

Rather, they say, older adults about to undergo elective surgery should undertake a sustained program of targeted exercise beforehand to counteract the muscle-wasting effects of bedrest, according to a media release from University of Birmingham.

Exercise Vs No Exercise

In the study, published in Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle, the researchers asked a group of older adults to perform four sessions of weight lifting exercise over 1 week. The participants did the exercises using only one leg, while the other leg did no exercise at all.

After completing the prehabilitation, the participants underwent 5 days of bedrest – a typical length of stay in hospital for an older patient. Although the researchers expected to find that the leg which had undergone the exercise would experience less muscle loss than the other leg, in fact they found muscle loss was about the same in both legs.

The team’s detailed analysis showed that, while short-term exercise prehabilitation does enhance the body’s muscle-building processes, thigh muscle-wasting was about 3% to 4% in both legs – roughly equivalent to what older adults would typically lose over 3 to 5 years of aging.

The researchers recommend that one approach to protect older muscle from wasting during hospitalization is to perform longer-term strength exercise prehabilitation beforehand.

“Although short-term prehabilitation offers a cost-effective and easy-to-implement strategy, it does not prevent muscle wasting among older adults undergoing bedrest. This muscle loss may be extremely hard to recover from and can lead to long-term health and disease complications.”

Dr Leigh Breen, the study’s corresponding author

Incorporate Aerobics, Protein, and Early Mobility

The team recommends that prehabilitation exercise programs should also incorporate aerobic exercise alongside strength training to protect cardiovascular health, and a protein-rich diet to increase muscle mass levels in a way that will effectively cancel out the muscle loss that is experienced during bedrest.

They also recommend that, where appropriate and safe, hospitalized older patients should aim to get back on their feet and mobile again as quickly as possible. Postsurgery exercise and dietary strategies will also be important to ensure a return to full health and lower the risk of future health complications.

“Our study reinforces the need for more research into the benefits of longer-term training programs prior to surgery. In the same was as an athlete would train before a race or a competition, exercise training before hospitalization is likely to be highly beneficial to older adults undergoing elective surgeries.”

Dr Benoit Smeuninx, Study Lead Author, Monash University in Australia

[Source(s): University of Birmingham, News-Medical Life Sciences]

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