Photo by Luke Braswell on Unsplash

Getting old can be scary. The prospect of becoming weak or unable to perform daily life activities, not to mention pursue your passions, is certainly frightening. Based on new evidence, though, frailty might not be as common as you think. 

First, what is frailty? Medically speaking, it’s usually diagnosed when a patient meets at least three out of the following five criteria: low energy, slow walking speed, low physical activity, weak grip strength, and weight loss. What it isn’t, according to scientists, is a normal side effect of aging. In other words, it’s not inevitable. 

A paper recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported results from a meta-analysis of 46 studies about aging and frailty. In total, the studies included more than 120,000 people worldwide, all aged 60 or above. The authors concluded that roughly four percent of people in that age group would develop frailty annually. 

Put another way, 96 percent of people who are at least 60 years old will NOT be diagnosed with frailty in a given year. Those odds are actually pretty good. 

The picture is even brighter when you consider that the progression of frailty can be prevented, delayed, and even reversed under the right conditions. This is especially good to know because while frailty is associated mostly with the elderly, young people can become frail too (especially if they suffer from a chronic disability or disease). 

How to prevent or reverse frailty

Stay active

According to guidelines set out by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, all adults over the age of 65 should complete 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week (or 30 minutes per day, five days a week). Researchers from the meta-analysis came to a similar conclusion: that 20-25 minutes of physical activity, done four days a week at home, was one of the most likely regimens to successfully delay or reverse frailty. The best workout regimen was comprised of 15 exercises to strengthen arms and legs and improve balance and coordination.

In a separate analysis of six studies looking at exercise as an intervention for frailty, authors concluded that doctors should continue to recommend regular physical activity or exercise training to older adults, even if they are already frail. In other words, staying active always helps, regardless of where you’re starting from.

Keep up the protein

What you put in your body matters. Protein isn’t just good for your physical health; it’s also a key component of a healthy brain. Proteins optimize your brain functioning, helping you to get nutrients to brain cells to maintain a healthy heart/brain balance.

A healthy, protein-heavy diet could include plenty of milk, eggs, fish, and chicken (on top of fruits and vegetables). A formula protein to supplement meals can be helpful, as well. Most people should aim to consume one gram of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day. It’s also never a bad idea to talk to your healthcare provider about your diet and nutrition. 

Regular screening

One of the best things you can do for your health overall is to get regular checkups. The sooner you catch something, the less acute it tends to be and the more time you have to address it. Especially if you start to notice your strength or agility starting to decline, go talk to a physician. Being assessed by a professional can make all the difference when it comes to instituting the appropriate interventions at an early stage.

Aging gracefully 

Challenging the common assertion that frailty is inevitable is just one part of confronting outdated ideas about aging. The fact is, wisdom really does come with age–and you can thrive no matter how old you are. You never have to stop learning, growing, or expanding. While Western culture doesn’t tend to venerate older members of society the way indigenous cultures did, the truth is that as you grow older, you have even more to give–and the more valuable you become. 

Aging gracefully isn’t just about avoiding something like frailty, but finding a place in your community where you feel valued, valuable, and fulfilled. Your life experience is unique and the more you give back and are received, the more you experience joy at any age.