UNM Will Join VA in Studying Obesity in Seniors

A study on frailty and obesity in the elderly that appears in the March 31, 2011 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine is the foundation for current research by a Department of Veterans Affairs physician in Albuquerque. He will join with UNM Faculty torecruit seniors foradditional research.

Dennis Villareal, M.D., now Chief of Geriatrics for the New Mexico VA Health Care System, was principal investigator in the study from April 2005 to August 2009 at Washington University in St. Louis. After analyzing data from 107 elderly participants, Villareal and his co-investigators determined that weight loss alone or exercise alone improves physical function and reverses frailty, but a combination of weight loss and exercise is even more beneficial in obese, older adults.

“That study tried to define the relative effects of diet-induced weight loss and exercise on physical function,” Villareal said.

Even though the study was completed at Washington University, Villareal continued his analysis for the study when he came to work in September 2009 at the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque. That research serves as a building block for a newer study Villareal is working on. He is examining how specific types of exercise, resistance or aerobic, affect people over the age of 65 when used in combination with diet. An example of resistance exercise would be the use of free weights like barbells. Running on a treadmill would be an example of aerobic exercise.

"In this study, we will isolate resistance exercise and aerobic exercise, combined with diet. We think that resistance might be the best.”

The idea of promoting weight loss in the elderly has some in the medical community concerned, Villareal said.

“There’s no doubt in younger people that weight loss is beneficial in reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease,” he said. “But in the elderly, it’s of particular concern if an intervention causes further loss of muscle and bone mass, which are needed for good physical function and bone health.”

The current five-year study will include 160 men and women and will continue into 2014. Those participating in the study work out in a special exercise room on the medical center’s fourth floor, and their progress is supervised by an interdisciplinary team that includes an exercise physiologist and dietitian.

More participants are needed to continue this research. Participants do not have to be Veterans, but need to be between the ages of 65 and 85, and overweight by 40 to 100 pounds. Those participating should be sedentary, and should not have dementia, unstable medical conditions or take insulin for diabetes. Volunteers may be eligible for up to $450. For more information, please call Dr. Elizabeth Sage Colombo or Dr. Sheryl Pascual at 222-3616.

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