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Exercise aside, genes may ultimately dictate seniors' mobility

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Genes can keep elderly people from benefiting equally from exercise, no matter how much effort they expend, according to research findings published in today's (Aug. 10) Journal of the American Medical Association.

Of nearly 3,000 seniors studied, those who exercised stayed healthier than their couch potato peers, but those born with a certain gene benefited the most from physical activity, said Marco Pahor, M.D., director of University of Florida's Institute on Aging and the multi-institutional study's senior author.

"To our knowledge, this is the first study to show behavioral and genetic interaction in functioning and aging, and shows people are already pre-selected, that there are genes that interact with behavior to affect mobility," Pahor said.

Decreasing mobility, along with lack of muscle strength and a decline in aerobic ability, are common aspects of aging that can lead to loss in quality of life, Pahor said. Understanding the mechanisms of how people lose mobility may lead to ways to help people remain independent longer, he added.

Federal health statistics have shown that about 34 percent of the U.S. population aged 70 or older reports difficulty walking a quarter of a mile. These individuals are at much greater risk of moving into a nursing home or dying over a two-year period, compared with their counterparts who do not report trouble walking the distance.

And despite the undisputed benefits of exercise, not everyone responds the same, even when they do lead active lives - for reasons that have not been entirely clear.

In the current study, researchers assessed seniors in an effort to better understand the relationship between genetic makeup, intensity of physical activity and functional decline. Twice a year throughout the four-year study, participants ages 70 to 79 reported their level of activity and their ability to walk a quarter mile or up 10 stairs.

Researchers also test
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Contact: Denise Trunk
dtrunk@ufl.edu
352-273-5819
University of Florida
10-Aug-2005


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