Use it or Lose it: New Study Shows Exercise Can Prevent Disabilities for the Elderly

elderly physical activity exercise old people

Everyone wants to be more active. Everyone wants to exercise more. “It’s good for you, keeps your metabolism up, it can prolong your life..” yadda yadda yadda. We know this; we all are well-aware that exercise is great, but one study is now confirming some of the claims that exercise can also reduce the chance of disability later on in life.

New Study Links Exercise To Lowering Risk of Disability

The study was just published at the beginning of the month in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study had a large clinical group of inactive elderly people ages 70-89 years old (who had trouble walking a 1/4th mile) begin a regimen where half the group participated in a frequent workout routine.To keep the group fair, people from all walks of life; suburban, urban, and rural from 8 locations nationwide participated.

The elderly people would have a schedule that included visiting a gym twice for classes and exercising from home three to four times per week. Those who had not been chosen for the physical workout part of the study (the control group) were given education classes that provided them information on living healthier lifestyles.

An advantage to the group they chose was that many already suffered from chronic illnesses like diabetes, hypertension, past heart attacks or stroke etc. The group was an ordinary selection of older people so the survey lent a typical look into the impact of exercise for a normal population; not just the ones that already were healthy. Many of the participants had considerable trouble with mobility at the beginning of the study. Although some members of the study were fit, some needed the aid of walkers to get around. Additionally, this was the first study of its kind to use previously sedentary older people, many of which who suffered from preexisting health conditions, and engaging them in new lifestyle changes.

Dr. Marco Pahor, director of the Institute on Aging at the University of Florida, Gainesville conducted the study. “These exercises were simple and applicable and can be implemented anywhere in any environment to have an important public health impact,”said Pahor.


The study showed approximately 18% less likelihood of suffering from disability for the average-age of 80 group that had been working out within a less than three year period.  Also, the study results may have been skewed due the health education classes the sedentary study participants were involved in. They may have learned techniques to increase their physical activity. This study was particularly relevant when taken into the consideration, according to the National Institute on Aging, that approximately 25% of the U.S. Population over 75 years old have difficulty in mobility.

An added benefit was the social interactions that the people in the research got to experience by attending workout training and health education courses. Additionally, active program costs like this are often covered by Medicare which will cover up to $150 annually for fitness classes.

As in every scientific research, the study was not perfect though. Despite an increase in exercise and physical activity introduced to their lives, still 30% of the participants who were hitting the gym had trouble walking and performing the tasks. But, that was still slightly less than the 36% not taking fitness classes (just enrolled in health courses.) Disability can’t escape us all completely, I suppose.

In the coming months, the researchers plan on releasing more data such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and other health checks that were periodically collected throughout the course of the project. Perhaps in the future, we will begin seeing more preemptive measures taken in the field of physical therapy that might help older individuals develop healthy routines that will allow them for more active and rewarding lifestyles. Also, the trend of elderly fitness classes (especially ones covered by insurance) to avoid possible disabilities will become the hottest trend.

Tips to Offer Elderly Patients Who Want to Be More Active

  • Make sure they have medical clearance to start workout programs
  • Start slow; it is easier to build endurance over time
  • Pick a routine. Maybe like 3-4 times a week? Every other day? And stick to it
  • Make short term goals. Making unrealistic/long term goals can cause frustration
  • Call your physician if exercise causes pain, breathing problems, dizziness, or discomfort

Author: Allied Travel Careers

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