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Tea, coffee drinkers less frail in old age – Singapore study

A daily cup of tea or coffee can keep you stronger in old age, recent research has suggested, with the study team finding that drinking coffee and tea at midlife could be linked to a reduced likelihood of physical frailty in late life.

Caffeine is the key and those who drank four cups of coffee a day fared best, though those who drank black and green tea also benefited, reports The Telegraph.

The team from the National University of Singapore looked at 12 000 participants, aged 45 to 74, with a follow-up period of 20 years.

Professor Koh Woon Puay, of the Healthy Longevity Translational Research Programme at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the University, said: “Coffee and tea are mainstay beverages in many societies around the world, including Singapore.

“Our studies show that consumption of these caffeinated drinks at midlife may be associated with a reduced likelihood of physical frailty in late life.

“However, further studies are still needed to confirm these longitudinal associations, and to investigate if these effects on physical frailty are mediated by caffeine or other chemical compounds.”

Participants were interviewed for the first time at midlife, at an average age of 53, and asked about their habit of drinking caffeine-containing beverages like coffee, tea and soft drinks, and food such as chocolate in terms of frequency and portion size.

In follow-up interviews when participants were at an average age of 73, they were asked questions including about their weight and the specific query: “Do you feel full of energy?”

They were also examined for handgrip strength and time taken to complete a timed up-and-go (TUG) test.

Physical frailty was defined as having at least two of the four components of weight loss, exhaustion, slowness and weakness.

Coffee and tea accounted for 84% and 12% respectively of total caffeine in the group.

More than two-thirds (68.5%) drank coffee daily. In this group, 52.9% drank one cup a day, 42.2% consumed two to three cups per day, while the remaining 4.9% drank four or more cups per day.

Tea drinkers were classified into four categories according to frequency of consumption: never, at least once a month, at least once a week, and daily drinkers.

Results showed that drinking coffee, black tea or green tea at midlife were independently associated with significantly reduced likelihood of physical frailty at late life.

Participants who drank four or more cups of coffee per day had significantly reduced odds of physical frailty at late life, compared to participants who did not drink coffee daily.

Those who drank black tea or green tea daily also had significantly reduced odds of physical frailty, compared with non-tea drinkers.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, concluded that higher caffeine intake was associated with lower odds of physical frailty, regardless of the source of caffeine.

Among the four components of physical frailty, the associations were stronger for the measured tests of handgrip strength and TUG, getting out of a chair to a fixed point a few metres away, than for the self-reported measures of weight loss and exhaustion.

Other research has shown that caffeine increases proliferation in muscle cells and improves muscle weight in mice.

In addition to caffeine, coffee and tea also contain rich bioactive polyphenols, which possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and have been associated with reduced risk for diseases that increase frailty, such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity and neurodegenerative diseases.

However, further research is necessary to identify specific ingredients and mechanisms underlying the association between coffee, tea and physical function in humans.

Study details

Consumption of Coffee, Tea, and Caffeine at Midlife, and the Risk of Physical Frailty in Late Life

Kevin Y. Chua, Huiqi Li, Wee-Shiong Lim, Woon-Puay Koh.

Published in Journal of the American Medical Directors Association on 21 July 2023


Our study evaluated the prospective association between the consumption of caffeine-containing beverages at midlife and the risk of physical frailty at late life within a population-based cohort of Chinese adults living in Singapore over a follow-up period of 20 years.

Prospective cohort study.

Setting and Participants
We used data from 12 583 participants from the baseline and third follow-up interviews of the Singapore Chinese Health Study (SCHS). Participants had a mean age of 53 years at baseline (1993–1998), and a mean age of 73 years during the third follow-up (2014–2017).

At baseline, habitual consumption of caffeine-containing beverages was evaluated using a validated semi-quantitative food-frequency questionnaire. During the third follow-up, physical frailty was assessed using the modified Cardiovascular Health Study phenotype.

Compared with non-daily drinkers, those who drank 4 or more cups of coffee daily had reduced odds of physical frailty [odds ratio (OR), 0.54; 95% CI, 0.38–0.76]. Similarly, compared with those who hardly drank tea, participants who drank tea everyday also had reduced odds (OR, 0.82; 95% CI, 0.71–0.95). Total daily caffeine intake at midlife was associated with reduced likelihood of frailty at late life in a dose-response relationship (Ptrend < .001). Relative to their counterparts in the lowest quartile of daily caffeine intake (0–67.6 mg/d), participants in the highest quartile (223.0–910.4 mg/d) had an OR of 0.77 (95% CI, 0.66–0.91). Higher caffeine consumption was associated with lower likelihood of being in the slowest quintile for timed up-and-go (TUG) and weakest quintile for handgrip strength.

Conclusions and Implications
In this cohort of Chinese adults, higher consumption of caffeine at midlife, via coffee and tea, was associated with a reduced likelihood of physical frailty in late life.


The Telegraph article – Daily tea and coffee drinkers stay stronger in old age, study suggests (Restricted access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Chronic inflammation in middle age linked to increased frailty when older


More tea, coffee and protein can lessen hip fracture risk for women – UK study


My cup runneth over: Is coffee becoming the beverage equivalent of daily aspirin?


Habitual tea drinking cuts CVD and all-risk mortality — China-PAR study


It’s never too late to start exercising to build muscle mass





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