WASHINGTON, May 27 (Xinhua) -- A daily 20-minute walk can help older adults reduce the risk of losing the ability to walk without assistance, thereby enhancing the quality of their later years, a U.S. study said Tuesday.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that moderate exercise including walking can help aging adults maintain their mobility, or the ability to walk without assistance, at a rate 18 percent higher than older adults who did not exercise
Called the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) trial, the study recruited 1,635 sedentary men and women aged 70 to 89 to investigate how daily physical activity will prevent older adults' loss of mobility, defined in the study as the ability to walk 400 meters, or about a quarter of a mile.
Although 400 meters might sound like an arbitrary number, it's an important figure for older adults, according to the study led by researchers at the University of Florida (UF).
"Four hundred meters is once around the track, or from the parking lot to the store, or two or three blocks around your neighborhood," Co-principal investigator Jack Guralnik, professor of the University of Maryland who also holds a faculty position at UF. "It's an important distance in maintaining an independent life. "
The participants in the study could walk a quarter mile within 15 minutes but were at risk of losing that ability. Low physical performance is common in older adults and is a risk factor for illness, hospitalization, disability, and death.
"These are people who are patients we see every day. This is why this study is so important: It includes a population that is typically understudied," principal investigator Marco Pahor, director of the UF's Institute on Aging said.
The participants were randomly separated into two groups and followed for an average of 2.6 years. The first group of 818 walked 150 minutes per week and did strength, flexibility and balance training. The second group of 817 attended health education classes and performed upper body stretching exercises. The study occurred between February 2010 and December 2013.
The researchers assessed study participants every six months, checking their ability to walk, their body weight, blood pressure and pulse rate, among other measurements.
The result is that the loss of ability to walk 400 meters was experienced by 246 participants in the physical activity group and 290 participants in the health education group.
"As an exercise scientist, I believe this type of research is absolutely critical to establish scientific evidence on which to make recommendations for how lifestyle can beneficially influence health status," said Wendy Kohrt, professor of medicine in the division of geriatric medicine at the University of Colorado, who helped review the scientific merit of the study before the launch of the main LIFE trial.
"The LIFE trial demonstrated that a modest increase in physical activity has the potential to help older adults maintain functional independence," Kohrt added.