Vigorous Exercise Can Reduce Risk of Chronic Diseases, Disability in Older Adults

Higher-than-recommended physical activity levels can help older adults avoid chronic diseases, disability, and cognitive decline for longer.

High levels of exercise can be beneficial for older adults in cutting down the risk of developing chronic diseases, according to new research.

While it’s well established that exercise yields plenty of health benefits, the study findings provide evidence that older adults who engage in vigorous physical activity can stave off chronic disease, mental impairment, and disability for 10 years.

“With aging demographics in most countries, a major challenge is how to increase quality and years of healthy life,” lead study author Bamini Gopinath, PhD, from the University of Sydney, said in a press release.

Researchers at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research interviewed 1584 Australian adults aged more than 50 years and followed them over a 10-year period. The researchers collected data from the Blue Mountains Eye Study, a benchmark population-based analysis that started in 1992.

For the study, participants provided information on the performance of moderate or vigorous activities and walking exercises, which was used to determine total metabolic equivalents (METs) minutes of activity per week. The researchers determined successful aging status through the absence of depressive symptoms, disability, cognitive impairment, respiratory systems, and systemic conditions.

Over the 10-year period, those who engaged in the highest levels of physical activity, well above the current recommended minimum level, were twice as likely to prevent stroke, heart disease, angina, cancer, and diabetes, and be in optimal physical and mental shape at the end of the period, according to the researchers.

Based on the findings, the researchers noted that physical activity levels should be several times higher than current World Health Organization recommendations, which suggest at least 600 MET minutes of exercise each week.

“The population strategy to promote physical activity among older adults should be to get those who are inactive to do some physical activity and those who currently only engage in moderate activity to incorporate more vigorous activity if feasible,” the researchers wrote.

Although some older adults may not be able to engage in vigorous exercise, they can be encouraged to participate in some physical activity. Public health interventions aimed at promoting physical activity participation can be an effective way to increase quality of life among older adults, the researchers concluded.

References

Gopinath B, Kifley A, Flood VM, et al. Physical activity as a determinant of successful aging over 10 years. Scientific Reports. 2018. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-28526-3#Sec9

New research has shown that people who engage in the highest levels of total physical activity are twice as lively to avoid chronic disease [news release]. Westmead Institute’s website. https://www.westmeadinstitute.org.au/news-and-events/2018/exercise-cuts-risk-of-chronic-disease-in-older-adu. Accessed July 26, 2018.