Most of us would like a magic pill that guarantees good health, especially as we age. Although there is nothing quite so easy as that, new research once again suggests that exercise is the best way to maintain good physical health as we grow older, and adding even less than an hour a week can make a difference.
Carried out by Roger Fielding at Tufts University along with colleagues from eight field sites across the U.S., the new research from the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) study followed 1,635 men and women age 70-89 for an average of 2.6 years.
All of the participants had low levels of physical functioning at the beginning of the study, reporting that they engaged in less than 20 minutes per week of regular physical activity in the month before it started.
Half of the participants were then randomly assigned to a program of walking and walking-based strength, flexibility and balance training, while the other half participated in health education workshops.
The researchers found that the more exercise the people did, the better their physical function.
In addition, those who participated in at least 48 minutes of physical activity a week benefited from the biggest improvement in their physical functioning, and the biggest reduction in their disability risk.
The results are significant as physical inactivity that often increases with aging puts seniors at an increased risk of illness, hospitalization and disability.
"These are people who want to live healthy, independent lives and are at risk for losing that," said Fielding commenting on the results, "In our first study, we confirmed that physical activity can help prevent mobility loss. Now we see that small increases can have big impacts."
"Regular physical exercise can bring a host of health benefits to older adults and the benefits often outnumber the risks," Fielding continued, "If we want to reduce muscle loss, functional decline, and loss of independence as we age, we need to keep people moving."
The results can be found published in the journal PLOS ONE.