Objective: To determine if sarcopenia modulates the response to a physical activity intervention in functionally limited older adults.
Design: Secondary analysis of a randomized controlled trial.
Setting: Three academic centers.
Participants: Elders aged 70 to 89 years at risk for mobility disability who underwent dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) for body composition at enrollment and follow-up at twelve months (N = 177).
Intervention: Subjects participated in a physical activity program (PA) featuring aerobic, strength, balance, and flexibility training, or a successful aging (SA) educational program about healthy aging.
Measurements: Sarcopenia as determined by measuring appendicular lean mass and adjusting for height and total body fat mass (residuals method), Short Physical Performance Battery score (SPPB), and gait speed determined on 400 meter course.
Results: At twelve months, sarcopenic and non-sarcopenic subjects in PA tended to have higher mean SPPB scores (8.7±0.5 and 8.7±0.2 points) compared to sarcopenic and non-sarcopenic subjects in SA (8.3±0.5 and 8.4±0.2 points, p = 0.24 and 0.10), although the differences were not statistically significant. At twelve months, faster mean gait speeds were observed in PA: 0.93±0.4 and 0.95±0.03 meters/second in sarcopenic and non-sarcopenic PA subjects, and 0.89±0.4 and 0.91±0.03 meters/second in sarcopenic and non-sarcopenic SA subjects (p = 0.98 and 0.26), although not statistically significant. There was no difference between the sarcopenic and non-sarcopenic groups in intervention adherence or number of adverse events.
Conclusion: These data suggest that older adults with sarcopenia, who represent a vulnerable segment of the elder population, are capable of improvements in physical performance after a physical activity intervention.