Sedentary folks who begin a moderate-intensity physical activity program between the ages of 70 and 89 are more likely to maintain their mobility in the years ahead than those who stay inactive.
That was among the major conclusions of a national study that included the work of faculty and students from Southern. The research was conducted between February 2010 and December 2013, and the results were published online May 27 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
A total of 1,635 people participated in the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders study with individuals divided into two groups – one which engaged in a physical activity program and another that did not, though they participated in a health education program.
Of the 1,635 adults, about 100 engaged in a physical activity program at Southern. Sites were chosen across the nation. SCSU was tapped by the Yale School of Medicine as a site location and for its assistance in administering the program.
Those participating in the study generally engaged in 10 to 30 minutes of walking for three to six days a week; 10 minutes of strength training for three days a week; balance training and stretching exercises.
The study showed that those in the regular exercise program were 18 percent less likely than those in the health education program to lose their mobility – defined as being unable to walk 400 meters on any given day without assistance. And regular exercise participants were 28 percent less likely to suffer from a persistent mobility disability — defined as being unable to walk 400 meters independently on two or more occasions.
“This is truly groundbreaking research that will affect the ability of communities to assist older individuals to remain independent,” said Robert Axtell, SCSU professor of exercise science and co-principal investigator of the study.
He said that is particularly important because reduced mobility is considered a risk factor for disability, as well as hospitalization and death.
“I am very proud of our exercise science students who assisted with the physical activity component of the study.”
In particular, Axtell thanked three individuals who coordinated the day-to-day activity sessions at Southern: Maria Zenoni, who began working on the study as a graduate student in the SCSU exercise science degree program and later completed it as a full-time researcher hired by Yale; and SCSU alums Lynne Iannone and Julie Bugaj.
The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Aging.
“To our knowledge, there hasn’t been a definitive study that looks at whether physical activity prevents or delays mobility disability in older, previously sedentary adults,” Axtell said. “Our hypothesis is that it would help, but nobody has really looked at the effects over a sustained length of time, which in our case was over a period of nearly 4 years.”
About 23.9 million people in the United States had difficulty walking a quarter of a mile in 2010, including 13.1 million who could not perform this activity, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And 39 percent of the 65 years and older population had difficult with ambulatory activities.
Dr. Thomas Gill of the Yale School of Medicine served as the lead investigator for that school. The University of Florida, Gainesville, coordinated the study that also included: Northwestern University in Chicago; Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La.; Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.; Tufts University in Boston; the University of Pittsburgh and Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.