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Physical Activity can help Seniors Maintain Mobility

Update Date: May 27, 2014 01:09 PM EDT

Researchers, experts and doctors have repeatedly stated that exercise is good for the body. Even though there is a lot of evidence supporting this case, researchers of a new study set out to find how exercise affects frail and older adults. The team from the University of Florida (UF) reported that physical activity helps older individuals maintain mobility while reducing their risk of physical disability.

"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 reported in the press release.

In this study, the team monitored 1,635 participants between the ages of 70 and 89. The seniors led sedentary lifestyles and were at risk of physical disability. The team randomly divided the participants into two groups that were followed for an average of 2.6 years each. The study's time frame was from February 2010 to December 2013.

The first group consisted of 818 people, who exercised by walking 150 minutes each week supplemented with strength, flexibility and balance training. Daily physical activity was defined as walking around a quarter of a mile or 400 meters. People in this group also checked in at the field centers two times a week. In the second group of 817 seniors, the participants went to health education classes and did stretching exercises.

"Four hundred meters is once around the track, or from the parking lot to the store, or two or three blocks around your neighborhood," co-principal investigator Jack Guralnik, Ph.D., a professor of epidemiology and public health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine said. "It's an important distance in maintaining an independent life."

The participants' walking ability, weight, blood pressure and pulse rate were assessed every six months. The researchers found that walking this distance helped the seniors maintain their mobility at an 18 percent higher rate when compared to seniors who did not exercise. Seniors who walked also had a 28 percent less chance of losing their ability to walk easily.

"The fact that we had an even bigger impact on persistent disability is very good," said Guralnik. "It implies that a greater percentage of the adults who had physical activity intervention recovered when they did develop mobility disability."

The researchers noted that people from the active group had a higher rate of hospitalizations than people from the education group. However, the difference was not statistically significant. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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