Current U.S. guidelines on fitness recommend that people over 60 years of age participate in 150 minutes each week of moderate-intensity physical activity. Studies have shown that level of activity, as opposed to being completely sedentary, can extend life a full 28 percent over a period of about 10 years. Unfortunately, for many seniors, that level is a goal they find difficult to achieve. Now a new study proves that even much less exercise extends life for seniors.
The study, conducted by Dr. David Hupin of the department of clinical and exercise physiology, University Hospital of Saint-Etienne, France, was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The research team writes that the 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise weekly suggested by the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans may be more than many seniors can manage, and they may decide instead not to exercise at all. However, the study proves that even a quarter hour daily of brisk walking, bicycling or swimming helps seniors live longer, lowering mortality risk by 22 percent. Hupin says:
When our older patients cannot do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week because of chronic diseases, we (the 2008 guidelines) recommend them to be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow.
The study analyzed data from past studies of 122,417 male and female participants between the ages of 60 and 101 in the United States, Taiwan and Australia. The researchers examined physical activity levels and the risk of participants dying from any cause over about 10 years. They included participants’ health status, physical and mental conditions, weight, cholesterol and other pertinent data.
The researchers standardized participants’ exercise amount and intensity using units known as Metabolic Equivalent of Task, or METs. Each MET represents the amount of energy expended each minute in a specific activity. Resting expends 1 MET, moderate activity such as walking uses 3 to 5.9 METs, and vigorous activity uses over 6 METs. Participants’ exercise “dose” was considered low if it averaged 1 to 499 METs, moderate from 500 to 999 METs, and high at over 1,000 METs.
The results were enlightening. People in the low METs group had a mortality rate 22 percent lower than people who did no exercise at all beyond going about their daily activities.
People in the moderate METs category (the target for the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous exercise) had a mortality rate 28 percent lower than people who did no exercise. And people in the 1,000 METs group showed a mortality rate a full 35 percent below those who did no exercise.
The study showed a strong link between exercise and mortality when patients had cardiovascular disease, but less so in the case of cancer.
Senior women benefited even more than men. Their mortality risk was lowered by 32 percent compared to 14 percent for men in the low-METs category. The authors of the study speculate that men tend to overestimate their exercise level, while women may underestimate.
This study makes it clear that any exercise is better than none. So even if there are weeks you don’t hit your exercise target, or even if you aren’t in shape to do a lot, head outside and take a quick stroll around the neighborhood. You are likely to live a longer, healthier life.