Disability diminishes quality of life for older people
Physical activity can reverse disability
Physical activity is widely regarded as a key aspect of lifelong health and well-being. But does physical activity help prevent disability that arises from mobility limitations in older adults? The Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) study addressed this question. This randomized trial enrolled participants at eight centers around the US. Participants were between 70 and 89 years of age, sedentary, and at high risk for mobility disability. Investigators randomized a sample of 1,635 sedentary men and women to either a physical activity group or a health education program group. Follow-up continued for an average of 2.6 years.
The physical activity intervention included walking (with a goal of 150 minutes per week), strength, and flexibility training. Participants attended two center-based sessions per week and engaged in home-based activity 3-4 times per week. Persons in the health education intervention attended weekly health education workshops for 26 weeks then monthly sessions thereafter. Major mobility disability was defined as inability to walk 400 meters (about 1,300 feet) in 15 minutes.
Pparticipants in the physical activity intervention averaged 104 more minutes of physical activity per week than those in the health education intervention. During follow-up, participants in the physical activity intervention experienced significantly less major mobility disability than those in the health education intervention (30.1 percent compared to 35.5 percent). Persistent mobility disability occurred significantly less often in the physical activity group than in the health education group (14.7 percent) compared to 19.8 percent). Increasing physical activity led to reduced risk of major and persistent mobility disability. Given the severe impact of mobility disability on well-being, older adults who participate in a physical activity program can improve their quality of life.
An even more recent umbrella review of meta-analyses of controlled trials investigated the ability of exercise therapy to improve functional capacity of people with chronic diseases. Eighty-five studies reported results for 22 different chronic diseases. Eighty-six percent of the studies showed that exercise therapy provided significant improvements in functional capacity compared to controls. Aerobic exercise and resistance training, individually and combined, produced similar positive outcomes. None of the meta-analyses showed a significant increase in adverse effects, deaths or hospitalizations in the exercise interventions compared to the controls. An important bonus: exercise therapy improved coping with activities of daily living. Exercise therapy appears to be a safe and effective way to improve functional capacity and reduce disability in people with chronic diseases.