Older people in hospital could help maintain their ability to carry out daily activities by engaging in physical activity during their stay, a new study shows.

The research shows that a physical exercise programme could benefit older people in hospital who do not follow a Mediterranean diet, helping to reduce their risk of hospitalisation-associated disability.

The loss of skills in carrying out day-to-day activities is something that affects older patients in hospital even if treatment for their condition has been successful. Hospitalisation-associated disability can lead to readmissions and even increase the risk of mortality.

This is where physical activity can help to stop the reduction in functionality amongst older patients.

Researcher Alba Tor-Roca, from the Department of Nutrition, Food Sciences and Gastronomy at the University of Barcelona, said: “In the study, we observed that in individuals who had a low adherence to the Mediterranean diet when hospitalised, the intervention with physical exercise had a greater and clinically relevant effect on their functional capacities.”

The researchers found that older people in hospital whose eating habits resemble the Mediterranean diet saw their overall condition improve if they followed physical activity advice. Those with the worst physical condition saw the most improvements when following the exercise programme.

The team of academics said more research is needed into the role of diet on how exercise can prevent hospitalisation-associated disability. They have also said that a patient’s adherence to a Mediterranean diet could be noted in the hospital admission process, enabling a more personalised programme to help reduce their risk of hospitalisation-associated disability.

The findings have been published following the study of 260 patients aged 75 or older at a hospital in Madrid. One part of this study saw the analysis of 109 volunteers to see if they followed a Mediterranean diet. Researchers also looked at their urinary polyphenol levels and their levels of functionality upon hospital admission and discharge.

José Antonio Serra-Rexach, from the Biopathology of Aging Research Group of the Gregorio Marañón Health Research Institute, said: “We observed that patients who underwent the physical exercise and health education intervention during hospitalisation significantly increased their functional status at discharge, compared to their admission and to patients who did not undergo the intervention.

“However, to date, there was no evidence of the effect of a healthy diet on functional status in hospitalised older people.”

Professor Mireia Urpi-Sarda, from the University of Barcelona’s Biomarkers and Nutritional & Food Metabolomics Research Group, added: “A healthy diet pattern, such as the Mediterranean diet, is associated with a lower risk of physical deterioration and weakness in elderly people. Considering that the Mediterranean diet is rich in polyphenols, we have evaluated the monitoring of this dietary pattern through a validated questionnaire, as well as by analysing the level of polyphenols in urine.”

The authors concluded: “These results suggest that adherence to the Mediterranean diet may represent an indicator of those older patients with an apparently better response to exercise interventions.”

Read the study in The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging.

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