Exercise helps elderly regain physical function and avoid major disability

DALLAS, Nov. 17 -- Regular structured exercise may allow previously sedentary elderly people to attain significant improvements in their physical functioning and reduce the likelihood they will become disabled in the future, according to findings from a multicenter pilot study being presented today at the Gerontological Society of America's annual meeting in Dallas. The results of the study, known as the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence For Elders Pilot (LIFE-P) study, also appear in the November issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.

The pilot study, which included senior researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH), the Cooper Institute in Dallas, Stanford University, Wake Forest University and the University of Florida, involved administering a structured physical activity consisting primarily of walking at a moderate intensity for at least 150 minutes a week, coupled with leg stretches, balance exercises and leg-strengthening exercises, to a group of sedentary elderly people ages 70 to 89. A second "control" group of elderly were given only instructions on "successful aging," which included information on good nutrition and the proper use of medications, foot care and preventive services. The physical functioning of both groups was tested before the interventions and twice during the one-year intervention.

Over the follow-up period, participants in the structured physical activity group increased their performance score on a test known as the Short Physical Performance Battery, or SPPB, from a baseline average of about 7.5 to about 8.5, whereas many participants in the "successful aging" intervention group actually saw a decline in their score. In addition, participants in the physical activity group improved their performance on a second assessment, a 400-meter walking test, and had a lower incidence of a major mobility disability, defined as an inability to walk a quarter m

Contact: Jim Swyers
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

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