Research focuses on how elderly can remain mobile, healthy

Published: August 20th, 2010

Category: Spotlights

Dr. Marco Pahor

Marco Pahor

Chairman, Department of Aging and Geriatrics Research
College of Medicine

Most mornings, Dr. Marco Pahor goes for a brisk run in Gainesville’s Ring Park. He throws in weight training sessions several times a week.

Being physically active is not just a way of life for 53-year-old Pahor, director of the University of Florida Institute on Aging – it is a major focus of the research program he leads. His mission, and the institute’s, is to use multidisciplinary basic, clinical and translational research and training programs to help older adults maintain good health and physical independence.

Under his leadership, the institute has blossomed, recruiting top researchers, conducting leading-edge cross-disciplinary research and winning several large grants from the National Institutes of Health and other agencies. Institute researchers include epidemiologists, exercise physiologists, geneticists, physicians and other experts tackling a range of issues. Those include identifying cellular processes behind hearing loss and muscle-loss, and investigating whether a red wine extract can improve brain function, whether testosterone therapy in older men who have depleted levels of the hormone can help improve health and mental and physical function, and whether the benefits of daily low-dose aspirin outweigh the risk in the elderly.

“Results from these and other studies in the institute will have crucial implications for public health in a rapidly aging society and will fill an important gap in knowledge for practicing evidence-based geriatric medicine,” said Pahor, chairman of the department of aging and geriatrics research in the UF College of Medicine.

The institute has more than 90 active grants and 40 pending grant proposals.

Those grants include UF’s largest – from the National Institute on Aging, to pursue a conclusive answer about whether physical activity or a successful aging health education program can help older adults retain mobility longer. The six-year study, of which Pahor is the principal investigator, will compare the long-term effectiveness and practicality of a physical activity program and a successful aging health education program among seniors.

Many studies have shown that regular exercise improves physical performance, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week, as well as muscle-strengthening activities. Still, little is known about whether physical activity or health education can actually help prevent major movement disability, defined as the inability to walk a quarter of a mile, or four blocks.

“We all know that physical activity is good for our health, but the definitive evidence of whether it can prevent disability in older people – whether you can prevent them from being unable to walk – is lacking,” Pahor said.

Photo credit: University Photography

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