A new study provides more evidence that physically active seniors may have a better overall health outlook.
Out of 893 people roughly 80 years old, researchers found that the most active individuals had a lower risk of dying over the four-year study compared to those who were the least active.
"It's another strong piece of evidence that all seniors should be participating in physical activities," said Dr Catherine Sarkisian, director of the Los Angeles Community Academic Partnership for Research in Aging.
Dr Sarkisian, who was not involved in the new study, told Reuters Health this does not prove exercise makes people live longer. It could be that people who were healthy enough to exercise are the ones who would have lived longer anyway.
Active people unlikely to lose memory
However, she said there is enough evidence to suggest that people who are more physically active are less likely to lose their memory or need to be in a nursing home, for example.
To see whether activity levels make a difference in lifespan, Dr Aron Buchman at Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago and colleagues measured the daily activity level of local seniors, most in their late 70s and 80s, over 10 days.
The participants wore a small sensor on their wrists to monitor and record how much they were moving throughout the day.
Link remains between activity and lower death
The researchers then followed the group for about four years, during which a quarter of the seniors – 212 – died.
The seniors who were most active had about a 25% lower risk of death compared to those who were least active over the four years, according to results published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Dr Buchman and his colleagues wrote that the link between physical activity and a lower risk of death remained even after adjusting for traits that may have affected both seniors' exercise routine and chance of dying, including mental ability, chronic health conditions and symptoms of depression.
Increased activity has advantages
"This suggests if you're increasing your activity – even in your home – it has some advantages," said Dr Buchman.
Dr Sarkisian thinks there is a stereotype that seniors are too old to learn new habits, but she said past studies have shown the opposite.
"Physical activity is one of the most important things that seniors can do to improve their health for the rest of their lives," she added.
(Andrew M. Seaman, Reuters Health, March 2012)