Elastic band exercises for elderly people

...can they help in reducing or even preventing frailty?

Frailty is a very common geriatric syndrome which is defined as a clinical state with increased vulnerability when facing unpredicted or undesirable stimulations. It is the consequence of a progressive and multi-factorial age-related physiologic decline affecting several body systems and leading to higher economic burdens, risks of dependency, cognitive issues, falls, hospitalisation or death.

Exercises and physical activity are key interventions to prevent and manage frailty according to literature. Several modes of exercise are recommended, such as balance, aerobic or flexibility. Resistance training seems to be an important aspect to consider and the authors focused here specifically on the effects of elastic band resistance training. 

Such intervention indeed shows several advantages for pre-frail elderly people fighting against frailty: enough time to recover, less risk of injuries (safe tool), involvement of multiple muscle groups, improvement of strength but also gait function, balance, flexibility, quality of life, risk of falls…

The authors found that elastic band training improves frailty states in pre-frail elderly people, allowing them to break away from pre-frailty and restoring them to non-frailty through improvement of frailty symptoms. 

Significant differences between the control group and the intervention group were found in terms of frailty states, as seventeen and twenty seven participants returned from pre-frailty to non-frailty in the elastic band group respectively after four and eight weeks. In the control group, only three participants followed the same improvement after eight weeks, while one participant even entered to frailty.

Results also showed significant differences of grip strength, walking speed and physical activity between groups at eight week after intervention.

The authors therefore concluded that elastic band exercise improves frailty states in pre-frail elderly people, make them broke away from pre-frailty and restore them to non-frailty through improving the grip strength, walking speed and physical activity, with effects after eight weeks even better than after four weeks. These results are consistent with earlier studies

> From: Chen et al., Physiother Theory Pract (2019) (Epub ahead of print). All rights reserved to Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. Click here for the online summary.

Expert opinion

As interventions in pre-frailty can delay or postpone the development of frailty, it is critical for clinicians to have effective techniques in their toolbox. The present study brings strong evidence in favour of the use of elastic band training to prevent frailty. The earlier, the better!

Such intervention shows several advantages: easy to use, safe, inexpensive, no external load to handle, easy to increase intensity (elastic length) or change trained muscles (elastic direction and intensity), no need for long training and easily accessible to anyone, especially elderly people.

Furthermore, it is worth noticing that participants with low physical activity before intervention significantly decreased (from thirteen to two) after eight weeks. This may lead to collateral positive effects for elderly people as physical activity is known to improve many health dimensions in this population. However, it is interesting to note that no significant improvement of physical activity was found after four weeks, which means that a four-week intervention may not be enough to reach beneficial results.

We must bear in mind that these results, although highly positive and encouraging, may not be fully generalisable as samples remain small and limited to older people without serious disease nor visual or hearing issues. Moreover, they have been observed within a limited period of time (eight weeks). Further studies would be necessary in order to gather additional evidence of the long-term effects of elastic band training on frailty states in elderly people.

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