It’s something we’ve all heard for years: Exercise can help keep older adults healthy. But now a study, the first of its kind to look at frail, older adults, proves that physical activity can help these people maintain their mobility and dodge physical disability.
A new University of Florida study shows daily moderate physical activity may mean the difference between seniors being able to keep up everyday activities or becoming housebound. In fact, moderate physical activity helped aging adults maintain their ability to walk at a rate 18 percent higher than older adults who did not exercise. “The very purpose of the study is to provide definitive evidence that physical activity can truly improve the independence of older adults,” said principal investigator Marco Pahor, Ph.D., director of the UF’s Institute on Aging.
What’s more, moderate physical activity not only helped older adults maintain mobility but also helped prevent the occurrence of long-term mobility loss. Co-principal investigator Jack Guralnik, Ph.D., a professor of epidemiology and public health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said there was a 28 percent reduction in people permanently losing the ability to walk easily.
“The fact that we had an even bigger impact on persistent disability is very good,” said Guralnik, who also holds a faculty position at UF. “It implies that a greater percentage of the adults who had physical activity intervention recovered when they did develop mobility disability.”
The results will be published in the May issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association and will be presented on May 27 at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Orlando.
Researchers showed that prescribed daily physical activity can prevent older adults’ loss of mobility, defined in the study as the ability to walk 400 meters, or about a quarter of a mile. Although 400 meters might sound like an arbitrary number, it’s an important figure for older adults, researchers said.
“Four hundred meters is once around the track, or from the parking lot to the store, or two or three blocks around your neighborhood,” Guralnik said. “It’s an important distance in maintaining an independent life.”
Called the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders, or LIFE, study, the study took place across eight field centers. There were two Florida field center recruitment sites at the University of Florida and Jacksonville Brooks Rehabilitation as well as field centers at Northwestern University, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, the University of Pittsburgh, Stanford University, Tufts University, Wake Forest School of Medicine and Yale University.
The researchers recruited 1,635 sedentary men and women ages 70 to 89 for the study. The participants could walk a quarter mile within 15 minutes but were at risk of losing that ability. Low physical performance can be a predictor of early death and higher hospitalization and institutionalization rates, and patients with low physical performance are not often recruited to large
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