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Frailty in seniors can be avoidable — and reversible

When Hamlet declares, “Frailty, thy name is woman,” he’s criticizing his mother’s and all women’s characters as weak. It’s clear that he’d never run into anyone like Dr. Mike’s wife, Nancy, Dr. Oz’s wife, Lisa, or Lindsey Vonn, Venus Williams or Elizabeth Warren.

These days, we know women can conquer physical and mental challenges as well as men (and sometimes better). We also know frailty isn’t a word to be used casually to describe a person — female or male — like the color of their hair or height.

Frailty is a medical condition that’s usually defined as meeting any three of these five characteristics: low physical activity, weak grip strength, low energy, slow walking speed and nondeliberate weight loss. It is a risk factor for poor quality of life, falls, functional decline and disability, the need for long-term care and finally death, within a two-year window.

It’s also an increasing problem globally. A study published in JAMA Open Network looked at 46 studies of more than 120,000 people in 28 countries and found that around 4.3% of folks 60 and older will develop frailty annually. That adds up to a lot of people (340 million or more) over a decade!

The great news is that it’s avoidable and reversible! Regular physical activity, including taking 10,000 steps a day and getting two to three 30-minute strength-building sessions weekly, is a basic tool to fight frailty.

>> If you’re a slow walker, set reasonable goals to build endurance and your step count. If you can walk five blocks in 10 minutes, try to shave one minute off your time after every seven walks, with the goal of eventually covering one (normal-size) block in 60-90 seconds or five blocks in five to 7-1/2 minutes.

>> Muscle-strengthening workouts are essential to counter the loss of muscle mass that can come with age. We advocate stretch bands and hand weights. Start light; it’s repetitions, not heavy loads, that get results.

>> Stand up! Sitting around robs you of energy and strength, even if you’re beginning to walk more. Get up every 30 minutes and walk outside, jump in place or take a flight of stairs.

>> If you need physical therapy for arthritic joints or sore/inflamed tissues, check with your doc. Get a referral and go!

Weight management is also important since excess pounds make mobility difficult, strain joints, increase depression and lead to a wide range of chronic diseases, from obesity to diabetes, heart disease and cancer. If you’re overweight or have a waist circumference of 35 inches or greater for gals or 40 inches or greater for guys, you need to adopt a nutritional plan that will help burn fat. The “What to Eat When” diet plan (on and is an effective approach that combines tasty food choices with the timing of your meals. Tip: Make it at least 12 hours between your last meal of the day and your first.


Aim for around 7 ounces of protein a day, four servings of carbs, up to 4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, 1 ounce of nuts and/or half an avocado, and unlimited nonstarchy vegetables. Not losing the weight you would like? Try cutting back a little on carbs or fats and adding more vegetables.

Other smart ways to battle frailty include increasing social interaction through clubs, family or volunteering. The psychological boost and happiness that come from helping others and having a network of support can empower your attempt to increase physical activity and lose weight.

Also, don’t shy away from using assistive devices. We know it can be tough sometimes to acknowledge that a cane or walker might be the key to getting in those daily steps and interacting with the world. Dr. Mike’s mother-in-law reached 100 recently after recovering from a fall with vigorous physical therapy and a willingness to use a walker … then a cane … and ultimately nothing at all. If a 100-year-old can do it, so can you.

Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chairman of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email questions to

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