Movement in old age prevents physical disabilities

Movement in old age prevents physical disabilities

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This is how activity in old age protects the human body

Physical activity can keep people fit in old age and thus prevent the development of physical disabilities and the loss of their independence. No excessive activity is required for this, even light physical activity can add significant benefits.

An investigation led by researchers from Wake Forest University found that exercise and physical activity can protect people from health problems and disabilities, even at an advanced age. The results of the study were published in the English-language journal "Journal of American Geriatrics Society".

What kind of people took part in the study?

The participants in the study were people between the ages of 70 and 89 who had problems with their physical function. Prior to the study, these people spent less than 20 minutes of exercise a week, but were able to cover 400 meters in less than 15 minutes. The participants were divided into two groups.

What did the study groups deal with?

This was an exercise group (which encouraged physical activity) and a group that participated in health education but did no physical activity exercises.

Inactivity is the strongest risk factor for disabilities

If people have difficulty moving, such as walking or climbing stairs, it can lead to physical disability and loss of independence. Research suggests that physical inactivity is the strongest risk factor for disabilities in old age.

Little is known about the benefits of light activity

It is already known that physical activity has been shown to bring health benefits, in particular for moderate to vigorous physical activity, such as shopping and gardening. Surprisingly, little is known about the benefits of lighter forms of physical activity or the effects of physical activity spread throughout the day, the researchers report.

Light activity is particularly important for the elderly

For the health of older adult people, it is important to understand the benefits of more exercise and easier forms of physical activity. These types of physical activity are easier for older adults to exercise regularly, especially for frail people.

What did the researchers want to find out?

The new study was designed to examine the effects of light physical activity and moderate to heavy physical activity on older adults. In the study, a severe mobility disability was defined in such a way that participants were no longer able to walk 400 meters at a time.

Aerobic activity was the focus of the exercises

The focus of the exercise program was on aerobic activity, i.e. exercises that increase breathing and heart rate. The focus was on walking. The participants had set themselves the goal of doing moderate to vigorous activities for 150 minutes a week, paired with short exercises for balance, flexibility and strengthening for the lower body, the researchers explain.

Participants increased their activity

The aim of the participants was to train five to six days a week, including two weekly practice sessions in the center. In the few weeks of the training, the participants changed from a light intensity to what they thought was at least a moderate intensity when walking.

Some participants used accelerometers

Of the participants, 818 were randomly assigned to the exercise program, and 507 people received information from an accelerometer at the start of the study. An accelerometer is similar to a pedometer, but it measures both the amount and intensity of physical activity.

Activity needs to be tailored to individual

The researchers found that the intensity of physical activity and the way physical activity is distributed throughout the day should be tailored to each individual's physical health to minimize the likelihood of developing a major mobility disability.

What should older people pay attention to?

Fragile people should focus on building strength and balance, as this is an important step in preventing mobility disabilities. Next, as adults develop strength and balance, older adults should focus on increasing the amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity they do each day through activities such as working at home, walking for transportation, or targeted exercise.

Spread light activities throughout the day

Once a person has developed strength and balance and has at least a small amount of moderate to vigorous activity, they can further reduce their risk of mobility disabilities by doing more light activities each day and spreading these activities throughout the day, for example through Hobbies like cooking or light gardening. A recommendation for more exercise seems to be a good starting point for older adults who want to maintain their physical functioning and an independent lifestyle. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Jason Fanning, W. Jack Rejeski, Shyh ‐ Huei Chen, Jack Guralnik, Marco Pahor, Michael E. Miller: Relationships Between Profiles of Physical Activity and Major Mobility Disability in the LIFE Study, in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (Published March 20, 2020 ), Journal of the American Geriatrics Society

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