Regular exercise reduces disability in old age

The “third age” is considered as the period that begins when the individual reaches an age close to the average expectation of life and runs until the end of the cycle of life. By nature, ageing brings with it a reduction in regenerative capacity of tissues and a consequent decrease in the biological reserve. The elderly are more prone to diseases and problems of mobility and balance, increasing the chance of falls, sparking a cycle of morbidity and hospitalization, which, in addition to shorten the period of life, so their quality decreases. Another serious problem arising from the reduction in mobility and balance is the loss of independence, since small everyday actions, such as climb a few rungs of a ladder, pick up an object from the floor, get a driver’s license, etc., become, besides painful, dangerous. With increasing longevity, a fast growing contingent of people in this age group and subject to these problems, featuring a public health issue.

Today we already have a large amount of scientific evidence proving that regular physical activity brings several benefits to the health of the population. However, few studies evaluating the effects of regular physical activity on health and other problems that accompany age, specifically in the age group over 70 years. Filling this gap, was published recently in the scientific journal Journal of the American Medical Association, a study that directly addresses this issue.

The research commenced in 2010 and evaluated, for an average period of 2.6 years, 1635, sedentary men and women volunteers, ages 70 to 89 years. The volunteers were divided into two groups. One received an intervention of regular physical activity, including walking and flexibility and strength exercises. The other group received, in place of physical activity, a program of education for health in old age. The primary outcome assessed was the ability to drive, measured by the ability of the individual to complete a course of 400 meters in a period of 15 minutes, without stopping to sit or require the help of another person.

The results showed that the Group submitted to physical activity had statistically significantly higher performance than the group without physical activity. From these results it can be concluded that regular physical activity programs can, in addition to improving mobility (which by itself reduces the risk of disease and hospitalizations), increase the independence (and therefore self esteem) for the elderly.