Compared to health education only, structured physical activity may help older adults recover from a major disability more quickly and maintain their independence over time.

In a randomized trial, researchers from Yale University compared the effects of a structured physical activity program (walking, along with strength, flexibility, and balance training exercises) to those of a health education program among more than 1,600 participants. They all were between the ages of 70 and 89, and were not disabled but were sedentary and had some physical limitations, according to a media release from Yale University.

Over the 3 ½-year study period, the researchers assessed the participants for major mobility disability, defined as the inability to walk a quarter mile.

The researchers suggest that compared to the health education program, the physical activity program reduced the total time that older adults suffered from major disability by 25%. The participants were less likely to experience disability in the first place, more likely to recover if they did suffer a disability, and less likely to have a subsequent episode, per the release.

“Our report strengthens the evidence supporting the benefit and long-term value of physical activity in promoting independent mobility among a growing population of vulnerable older persons,” says Dr Thomas Gill, first author and professor of geriatrics.

“Interventions to promote independent mobility should focus not only on preventing the initial occurrence of disability, but also on restoring and maintaining independent mobility in older persons who become disabled,” he adds.

The study was published recently in Annals of Internal Medicine.

[Source(s): Yale University, Science Daily]