The research explores the role that physical activity and diet play in preserving muscle strength, balance, and overall health as we get older.

As a result of the ageing process, muscles get smaller which contributes to them becoming weaker, leading to frailty, falls, and loss of independence in older people. Short spells of not being active, such as a brief hospital stay, are often difficult to recover from and potentially lead to further loss of strength and balance.

So researchers from the University are investigating how to prevent, or delay the onset of frailty in older people. Through a series of activities, they are hoping to understand more about how five minutes of exercise can be incorporated into daily living to potentially improve strength and balance, and understand if this type of exercise might protect against muscle loss when older adults experience short periods of reduced activity. They also want to find out how easy changes to the diet, like adding more protein to breakfast, might play a role in helping build up muscle size.

Preventing muscle loss

Oly Perkin, a PhD student in the Department for Health who is leading the research, said: "We know that after the age of 60 we lose about one per cent of our muscle every year. This has a major impact on our ability to do many of the things that are part of daily life, so finding ways to prevent muscle loss is crucial in our ageing population."

Professor Keith Stokes, Deputy Head of the Department, said: "Being active and making simple changes to diet can slow down the loss of muscle as we get older, and often we can improve strength and balance with only a little bit of regular exercise."

In these studies, people will be asked to wear physical activity monitors, complete food diaries over three days, and attend a lab at the University where the researchers will measure leg strength, balance, and undertake detailed scans of body composition. Between visits to the lab, participants may be asked to change their physical activity level for a short period, undertake short bouts of exercise in the home twice a day, or make small adjustments to their diet.

In order to participate, volunteers must be non-obese and a non-smoker. You will also not be able to take part in the study if you have a history of bone, joint or neuro-muscular problems or a current musculo-skeletal injury; or if your doctor has told you that you should not do exercise.

To volunteer to take part in this research, please email Oly Perkin at or call 01225 384356. Reasonable travel expenses for volunteers will be reimbursed.

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Department for Health research