Older adults can maintain the muscle pump action needed to prevent or alleviate edema.

Older adults appear to be no less able than younger adults to maintain the muscle action they need to help mitigate chronic lower-limb edema — if they exercise, according to a comparison study among three age groups.

Chronic lower-limb edema — the persistent accumulation of fluid in the leg — is common in the elderly. It can be caused by disease or disuse and can lead to problems including difficulty walking or moving, fatigue, and anxiety, the investigators said. 

Disuse edema is related to a lack of activity, which reduces a process called muscle pump action. Leg muscles effectively act as a blood pump, and when contracted, the muscles squeeze the veins together and force blood to flow. 

The investigators sought to determine whether muscle pump action capabilities naturally decrease with age. Magnetic resonance imaging was used to detect blood flow during exercise in the lower legs of 76 healthy participants grouped into young, middle- and older-age cohorts.

No significant difference in muscle pump action was found between the age groups, reported Junko Sugama, Ph.D., RN, of Kanazawa University, Japan. 

This results suggests that elderly people may be able to maintain their muscle pump action by exercising, Sugama and colleagues wrote. The authors also reported that the majority of their elderly study participants had regular exercise habits. 

The study was published in the Japan Journal of Nursing Science.