July 2014

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Health Capsule

Physical Activity Helps Seniors Stay Mobile

A carefully structured, moderate physical activity program helped vulnerable older people maintain their mobility. The new study shows that many frail older people can reap rewards from regular physical activity.

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.

An NIH-funded study enrolled more than 1,600 adults, ages 70 to 89, who were at risk for disability. They were randomly assigned to either a moderate-intensity physical activity program or 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 3 or 4 times a week. The comparison group had 26 weekly health education workshops, later followed by monthly meetings.

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% 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,” says 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.”

Based on earlier research, NIA launched Go4Life, a national exercise and physical activity campaign for healthy older adults.

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