Elderly who exercise live longer, say scientists

Pittsburg: The ability of elderly people over the age of 70 to walk at least a quarter of a mile is a key indicator of future illness and longevity, say scientists at the Universityof Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH).

The study which was part funded by the National Institute on Aging asked at 2,700 white and African-American men and women aged between 70 and 79 to walk as quickly as they could a quarter mile course. Participants were excluded from attempting the walk if they had an abnormal electrocardiogram, elevated blood pressure or resting heart rate or recently had a procedure for, or symptoms of, heart disease.

Of the 2,680 elderly people who participated, 2,324 (86 percent) completed the full 400-meters, while 356 (13 percent) did not complete the test. The investigators followed the medical histories of all participants for the next six years.

Among those excluded from or who stopped the walk, death rates were significantly higher six years later than those who completed the walk. In addition, of the more than 2,200 participants who did not have a clinical diagnosis of cardiovascular disease at the time of the test, those who did not complete the walk had significantly more heart-related incidents six years later compared to those who did. The former group also had a significantly higher risk of persistent limitations in their mobility and related disabilities than did those who completed the full 400-meters. The study is published in the Journal of the American Association.

The slowest 25 percent in the walk had a three- to four-fold higher risk of death than those in the fastest 25 percent for walk time. Those in the slowest 25 percent of walk time also had a higher risk of cardiovascular disease-related complications and limitation in their mobility and mobility-related disabilities than those in the fastest 25 percent.

The researchers also concluded that it was difficult for the elderly to take exercise because there were few safe places to walk and the expense of exercise equipment.

Anne B. Newman, MD.MPH, professor of epidemiology at GSPH and professor of medicine in the department of medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine said: “Individuals who remain physically active into their 70s have a big advantage in their 80s in terms of living longer and reducing their risk of cardiovascular disease and disability. So, we really need to focus on developing programs in the community that will help the elderly stay active and healthier longer,” she said.