Older adults may have all the luck when it comes to staying healthy, so long as they enjoy a walk, slow dancing, or a good game of table tennis. A new study shows the health benefits older adults reap from these activities is on par with moderate or vigorous exercise—if they get enough.

The College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University (OSU), Corvallis, Ore, was ground zero for new research that shows 300 minutes of light exercise per week provides some significant health benefits for people older than age 65 years.

Brad Cardinal, a professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, and co-author of the study, says 5 hours is all older people need to reap an array of health benefits.

“There appears to be some real value in devoting at least three percent of the 168 hours available in a week to these light forms of physical activity,” Cardinal says. He adds that older adults may be more reluctant to participate in moderate to vigorous exercise because of health concerns, including fear of injury.

The researchers examined data from the 2003-06 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

According to the OSU media release, the study found that older adults who participated in light-intensity exercise activities for 300 minutes or more were 18% healthier, overall, than peers who did not log that much light activity. They reportedly had lower body mass index (BMI), smaller waist circumference, better insulin rates, and were less likely to have chronic diseases, Cardinal said.

“These findings highlight that, in addition to promoting moderate-intensity physical activity to older adults, we should not neglect the importance of engaging in lower-intensity, movement-based behaviors when the opportunity arises,” said lead author Paul Loprinzi, PhD, assistant professor of exercise science and health promotion at the University of Mississippi.

“For example, instead of talking on the phone in a seated position, walking while talking will help increase our overall physical activity level.”

The study was published in the current issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.

[Source: Oregon State University]