Effectiveness and characteristics of physical fitness training on aerobic fitness in vulnerable older adults: an umbrella review of systematic reviews

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Objectives To present an overview of effectiveness and training characteristics of physical training on aerobic fitness, compared with alternative or no training, in adults aged over 65 years with various health statuses, providing a basis for guidelines for aerobic training of vulnerable older adults that can be used in geriatric rehabilitation. Design An umbrella review of systematic reviews that included both randomised controlled trials and other types of trials. Data sources MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL and the Cochrane Library were searched on 9 September 2019. Eligibility criteria for selecting studies We included systematic reviews reporting on physical training interventions that are expected to improve aerobic fitness, presenting results for adults aged 65 years and older, describing at least one of the FITT-characteristics: Frequency, Intensity, Time or Type of exercise, and measuring aerobic fitness at least before and after the intervention. Data extraction and synthesis Two independent reviewers extracted the data and assessed the risk of bias. A narrative synthesis was performed. Results We included 51 papers on 49 reviews. Positive effect of training on aerobic fitness was reported by 33 reviews, 11 reviews remained inconclusive and 5 reviews reported no effect. Training characteristics varied largely. Frequency: 1-35 sessions/week, Intensity: light-vigorous, Time: <10-120 min/session and Types of exercise: many. The methodological quality was most often low. Subgroup analyses revealed positive effects for all health conditions except for trauma patients. Exercise characteristics from current existing guidelines are widely applicable. For vulnerable older adults, lower intensities and lower frequencies were beneficial. Some health conditions require specific adjustments. Information on adverse events was often lacking, but their occurrence seemed rare. Conclusion Physical fitness training can be effective for vulnerable older adults. Exercise characteristics from current existing guidelines are widely applicable, although lower frequencies and intensities are also beneficial. For some conditions, adjustments are advised. PROSPERO registration number CRD42020140575.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere058056
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2022


  • clinical physiology
  • geriatric medicine
  • rehabilitation medicine

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