Physical Activity Helps Elderly Live Longer

Jul 12, 2006

Elderly people who are physically active are much more likely to live longer than elderly people who are not physically active, according to a six-year study carried out by researchers at the US National Institute on Aging. You can read about this study in more detail in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 12 July issue.

Head researcher, Todd Manini, an Exercise Physiologist, said there were various reports out there showing that exercise, such as running or jogging had benefits for the elderly. The team wanted to find out whether just usual daily activities had a protective value.

The team looked at 302 volunteers, aged 70 to 82, and monitored them for six years. They concluded that any amount of regular activity, not necessarily formal exercise, was closely linked with a longer lifespan.

The volunteers drank water containing oxygen-18 and hydrogen-2, two harmless isotopes. Our bodies get rid of oxygen-18 in water. We get rid of hydrogen-2 in water and also carbon dioxide. The amount we eliminate depends on how much energy we expend. The team was able to accurately measure each person’s energy expenditure by measuring water and carbon dioxide levels that left the body each day.

They found that the 30% most physically active volunteers were 69% less likely to die than the 30% least active.

The study, rather than measuring what type of physical activity people engaged in, just measured how much energy they used up each day. It could have been through formal exercise in a gym, household chores, walking for pleasure or to the shops. Despite some patterns common among the active people, the researchers concluded that it is the amount of energy you use up each day that matters – how you use it up is not important. In other words, if you are in the 30% most active, whether your energy is expended through jogging or gardening and household chores does not matter.

Those in the highest 30% burned about 600 more calories than those in the bottom third. The researchers also found that the more active 30% were much more likely to be in some kind of paid employment.

For elderly people, the researchers found, 600 calories means about 2 hours’ worth of physical activity. This could be structured gym work or a variety of routine activities such as vacuuming the house, gardening or washing the dishes.

There are various ways elderly people can clock up those extra 600 calories. You can add lots of little things to your daily routine, such as:

1. Don’t have a lawn mower you sit on, have one that you push.

2. Walk your dog. Get one if you don’t have one and walk it regularly.

3. Park your car at the far end of the supermarket.

4. Walk up a flight of stairs a little more often each day.

5. Get yourself a remote phone and walk about each time you are chatting.

6. If your local store is nearby leave the car at home and walk to it.

7. Cancel your daily newspaper delivery and go out on foot each morning and buy it.

8. If you find long walks boring or cumbersome, break them up into little ones. Walk around your block once four separate times a day. If each walk takes 7 minutes, times four means 28 minutes of extra walking each day.

9. Every time there are adverts on TV get up and walk about for a couple of minutes. If you do that for two minutes each time, and do it just ten times a day, that’s an extra 20 minutes’ walking.

10. Hold on to doing as many household chores as you can. Only bring in paid help when you are really incapable of doing it any more.

11. Stop using your garden sprinkler and use a hose-pipe.

12. If you regularly use the bus, get off at an earlier stop.

If fact, these twelve tips apply to people of all ages.

“Daily Activity Energy Expenditure and Mortality Among Older Adults”
Todd M. Manini, PhD; James E. Everhart, MD, MPH; Kushang V. Patel, PhD, MPH; Dale A. Schoeller, PhD; Lisa H. Colbert, PhD; Marjolein Visser, PhD; Frances Tylavsky, PhD; Douglas C. Bauer, MD; Bret H. Goodpaster, PhD; Tamara B. Harris, MD
JAMA. 2006;296:171-179.
Link to Abstract

Written by: Christian Nordqvist
Editor: Medical News Today
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