Use it or lose it: Physical activity helps seniors stay mobile

A carefully structured, moderate physical activity program helped vulnerable older people maintain their mobility. This was the conclusion of a January 2014 study, which showed that many frail older people can reap rewards from regular physical activity.

The older you are, the higher the risk

As you get older, reduced mobility can raise the risk for disease, disability, and even death. Regular physical activity offers known health benefits to a variety of people. But scientists hadn’t identified a specific intervention to prevent mobility disability.

The study on the effects of structured physical activity

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), enrolled more than 1,600 adults, ages 70 to 89, who were at risk for disability. They were randomly assigned either to a moderately intense physical activity program or to a health education program focused on successful aging.

The physical activity group gradually worked up to 150 minutes of weekly activity, including brisk walking, strength and balance training, and flexibility exercises. Sessions took place at a clinic twice a week and at home three or four times a week. The comparison group had 26 weekly health education workshops, later followed by monthly meetings.

The results: A significant reduction in risk

Over the course of the study — an average of 2.6 years — the physical activity program significantly reduced the risk of major mobility disability by 18 percent compared to the education group. Physical activity participants were better able to maintain their ability to walk without assistance for about a quarter of a mile.

“We are gratified by these findings,” said Dr. Richard J. Hodes, director of NIH’s National Institute on Aging (NIA). “Participating in a specific program of aerobic, resistance, balance, and flexibility training activities can have substantial positive benefits for reducing risk of mobility disability.”

Check out Go4Life for a physical activity program

Based on earlier research, NIA launched Go4Life, a national exercise and physical activity campaign for healthy older adults. Click HERE to learn more about Go4Life and what the program can do to help older adults stay active!


Reference: Effect of structured physical activity on prevention of major mobility disability in older adults: the LIFE study randomized clinical trial. Pahor M et al. JAMA 2014 Jun 18;311(23):2387-96. doi: 10.1001/jama.2014.5616. PMID: 24866862.

Information courtesy of the NIH News in Health website.

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