Fitness program key to greater mobility as we age
For older adults, a decline in mobility can have a significant impact on their independence. From the ability to run errands to socializing with friends, the ability to walk even a short distance is vital to maintain a high quality of life.
A new study published in the journal JAMA finds that a moderate exercise program—including daily walks, stretches, balance exercises and strength training—can help older adults keep disability at bay.
“It’s important for older adults to exercise regularly, no matter their age or what type of chronic health conditions they may have,” says Dr. Archana Goel, Internal Medicine Physician on staff at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, Ill. “A regular exercise program provides both physical and emotional benefits and helps lower the risk of disability.”
Researchers analyzed more than 1,600 inactive older adults, ages 70-89, to determine if an ongoing exercise program would have a positive impact. All participants showed signs of physical limitations. Half of the group participated in a long-term structured exercise program while the other half attended education classes focused on healthy aging.
Throughout the 2.5-year study, the exercise group increased their activity to 150 minutes of walking each week. Participants were checked up every six months to determine how their mobility and health were impacted.
Results showed the exercise group was 18 percent less likely to experience major mobility disability, meaning they were able to walk more than a quarter-mile without assistance. In addition, this group was also 28 percent less likely to lose mobility over an extended period of time.
While an ongoing exercise program did increase participants’ mobility and thereby improve quality of life, it did not reduce their risk of hospitalization or death. According to researchers, future studies will focus on whether a more vigorous exercise program will offer greater health benefits.
While any amount of exercise is beneficial, Dr. Goel recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, five days a week. Whether daily walks, bike riding or yoga, the exercise should be customized based on a person’s age and health.
“Many people, particularly older adults, are nervous to begin an exercise program,” Dr. Goel says. “The key is to find a customized program that works best for you. Talk to your primary care physician to determine exercises that fit your comfort level, then maintain the routine and gradually increase your pace. Initially you’ll feel tired, but it will get easier over time.”
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