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Exercise Benefits Even the Oldest Old

Regular workouts extend life and reduce risk of physical disability, researchers find

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Older adults who get regular exercise may live longer and be at lower risk for physical disabilities, according to an Israeli study.

The research included almost 1,900 people born in 1920 and 1921 who were assessed at ages 70, 78 and 85. Those who did less than four hours of physical activity per week were considered sedentary, while those who exercised about four hours a week, did vigorous activities such as swimming or jogging at least twice a week, or those who got regular physical activity (such as walking at least an hour a day) were considered physically active.

The researchers found that 53.4 percent of participants were physically active at age 70, 76.9 percent at age 77, and 64 percent at age 85. Compared to those who were sedentary, physically active people were 12 percent less likely to die between ages 70 and 78, 15 percent less likely to die between ages 78 and 85, and 17 percent less likely to die between ages 85 and 88.

Physically active participants also experienced fewer declines in their ability to perform daily tasks, were more likely to be able to live independently, and were less likely to be lonely and to rate their health as poor.

The findings appear in the Sept. 14 issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

By improving cardiovascular fitness, slowing loss of muscle mass, reducing fat, improving immunity and suppressing inflammation, physical activity may delay the onset of decline that can begin when a person is no longer able to perform daily activities, the study authors suggested.

"Despite the increasing likelihood of comorbidity, frailty, dependence and ever-shortening life expectancy, remaining and even starting to be physically active increases the likelihood of living longer and staying functionally independent," wrote Dr. Jochanan Stessman and colleagues at Hebrew University Medical Center and Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem.

"The clinical ramifications are far-reaching," they added. "As this rapidly growing sector of the population assumes a prominent position in preventive and public health measures, our findings clearly support the continued encouragement of physical activity, even among the oldest old. Indeed, it seems that it is never too late to start."

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about exercise for seniors.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives Journals, news release, Sept. 14, 2009

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