Structured Physical Activity Program Can Reduce Risk of Losing Ability to Walk Unassisted

National Institute on Aging

Structured Physical Activity Program Can Reduce Risk of Losing Ability to Walk Unassisted A carefully structured, moderate physical activity program can reduce risk of losing the ability to walk without assistance a new study has found. Older people who lose their mobility have higher rates of disease, disability, and death. A substantial body of research has shown the benefits of regular physical activity for a variety of populations and health conditions. But none has identified a specific intervention to prevent mobility disability. In this large clinical study, researchers found that a regular, balanced, and moderate physical activity program followed for an average of 2.6 years reduced the risk of major mobility disability by 18 percent in an elderly, vulnerable population. ‰ÛÏWe are gratified by these findings,‰Û said Richard J. Hodes, M.D., director of the National Institute on Aging (NIA), which was the primary sponsor of the trial. ‰ÛÏThey show that participating in a specific, balanced program of aerobic, resistance, and flexibility training activities can have substantial positive benefits for reducing risk of mobility disability. These are actionable results that can be applied today to make a difference for many frail older people and their families.‰Û The Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) trial included 1,635 sedentary men and women aged 70-89 at risk of disability, who were randomly assigned to a program of structured, moderate-intensity physical activity or to a health education program focused on topics related to successful aging. Participation in the study averaged 2.6 years. The physical activity group of 818 people gradually worked up to the goal of 150 minutes of weekly activity, including 30 minutes of brisk walking, 10 minutes of lower extremity strength training, 10 minutes of balance training, and large muscle flexibility exercises. The 817 people in the comparison group participated in weekly health education workshops for the first 26 weeks, followed by monthly sessions thereafter. They also performed five to 10 minutes of upper body stretching and flexibility exercises in each session. Participants in both groups were assessed every six months at clinic visits. In 2011, NIA launched Go4Lifeå¨, a national exercise and physical activity campaign, based on previously demonstrated benefits of exercise for healthy community-dwelling adults age 50 and older. The LIFE study adds to that evidence with findings that older people vulnerable to disability can also be included among those who could reap rewards from regular physical activity. Go4Lifeå¨ emphasizes endurance, strength, flexibility, and balance exercises. For additional information, go to