Activity cuts seniors' disability risk
- Staying physically active may ward off disability among healthy older people, a new study shows.
Among 1,020 senior housing residents, all free of dementia, the risk of becoming disabled fell 7% for every additional hour spent each week being physically active. Moreover, each added weekly hour of activity cut the risk of dying by 11% over the next several years.
"These findings suggest that physical activity is important for the maintenance of functional independence in old age," Dr. Patricia A. Boyle of the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago and colleagues conclude.
Boyle and her team took into account several existing disabling factors that could impair activity -- such as walking ability, joint pain, body mass index, and depressive symptoms -- so it is not likely that their findings were simply due to healthier people being more likely to be active, they note in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Study participants ranged in age from 54 to 100, with an average age of 80. Those in the current analysis were followed for about 2.5 years, on average, and underwent detailed evaluations of their health and physical activity levels annually.
Mortality dropped as time spent being active rose, the researchers found, with people who spent 2.25 hours a week on physical activity being 24% less likely to die during the study than those who were completely inactive. Men and women who logged 7 hours of physical activity each week were 57% less likely to die than their sedentary peers.
The risk of losing the ability to perform activities of daily living also dropped as physical activity levels rose.
The researchers looked separately at activities of daily living -- such as walking short distances, feeding oneself, getting dressed, and bathing -- and instrumental activities of daily living -- for example using the telephone, preparing meals, shopping, and housekeeping. The likelihood becoming unable to perform either type of activity fell by 7% for every additional hour of activity.
"These findings suggest that the protective effect of physical activity extends beyond self-care activities to include more-complex and cognitively challenging behaviors, and that even relatively small increases in activity levels may have the potential to significantly reduce disability in the aging population," the researchers write. "Efforts to promote physical activity in older adults may therefore represent a target to improve health outcomes and quality of life in advanced aging."
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