The Commissioner, one of my septuagenarian golf buddies, likes to remind me of the limitations that await me, the youngest of our foursome: “You’re not going to be able to do what you’re doing now in 10 years,” he warns. I often take this to mean that my slice may someday disappear, but he’s actually referring to what he believes to be the inexorable slide from functional to frail.
He’s not alone in this belief. Conventional wisdom has long asserted that frailty is a non-negotiable product of aging. And, to be sure, the years do take a toll on the body. It’s been six years since I dared to return to the basketball court; my fast-twitch muscles don’t twitch like they used to. And just last week, my right shoulder suddenly began lobbying for my attention with a dull, but persistent ache, accompanied by an annoying lack of mobility.
I couldn’t point to a particular incident I could blame for this affliction; it simply appeared out of nowhere to perhaps remind me that my aging body is, well, aging. Maybe The Commissioner is right: Despite my daily efforts to sustain some semblance of physical fitness, at some point my body may just decide it’s had enough. The shoulders freeze, the knees stiffen, the spine slumps, and I find myself wondering on some future morning why I’m having so much trouble pulling on a pair of jeans.
Old age invites an abundance of curses, both mental and physical, but here in Geezerville the prospect of frailty seems to introduce itself whenever we’re struck by some mysterious twinge. It’s easy to leap to conclusions, to assume the worst.
But a flurry of research in recent years suggests that frailty is neither preordained nor intractable. And fending it off may have as much to do with what you eat as how much you lift.
For years, I’ve relied on a strength-training regimen as my best defense against sarcopenia, the age-related loss of muscle mass that typically leads to frailty, so I was intrigued by the results of a study released last summer linking frailty with lower levels of certain vitamins and antioxidants. The report, compiled by Aisling O’Halloran, PhD, and her team at Trinity College Dublin, found that frail study subjects were deficient in lutein, zeaxanthin, and vitamin D.
The results suggest that a simple blood test could help physicians diagnose “pre-frailty” in elderly patients and prescribe dietary changes to fend off the condition. “We have presented evidence in the largest…