Physical Activity Benefits Old and Young, Frail and Healthy

Did you ever wonder if those community-based exercise programs actually did much good for the people who participated? You know, programs like chair exercise and water exercise classes. For those observing from the outside, it may seem as though the activity in such classes is so minimal as to provide little to no benefit to the men and women sitting in chairs and lifting small hand weights, or standing in the water moving their limbs.

Not so.

The Annals of Internal Medicine analyzed the results of a randomized trial of both frail and non-frail older adults and found that such activity programs really do benefit those who partake of them.

In the trial, over 1,600 adults aged 70-89 who were living a sedentary lifestyle and who were at high risk for mobility disability were studied. Participants were drawn from 8 centers across the United States. Roughly 20% of these older adults were considered frail at the beginning of the study. They were divided, randomly, into two groups. The first group was given a physical activity intervention, and the second group was provided a health education program.

The physical activity intervention for the first group consisted of walking, strength training, and balance and flexibility exercises. The health education program consisted of workshops and stretching exercises.

After a period of 2 to 3.5 years, it was found that the incidence of new frailty was about the same between both groups. However, there was a difference between groups in one measure of the frailty exercise; the inability to rise from a chair five times without using one’s arms. Regardless of whether a participant was considered frail at the beginning of the study, it was found that those who had been given the activity intervention scored better in this test. Also, the risk for major mobility disability was found to be significantly lower in the activity group than in the health education group.

The researchers concluded that long-term community-based physical activity programs for all older adults, both frail and non-frail, are important for improving at least some aspects of frailty and for lowering the risk of major mobility disabilities.

Information for this articles was obtained from NEJM Journal Watch and from the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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