Seniors: Keep It Moving for Longer Life

Healthnotes Newswire (September 7, 2006)—Physically active seniors might live longer than those who don’t expend much energy in their daily lives, suggests a new study.

Numerous studies have found that staying physically active through later life prevents chronic diseases, improves health, and promotes a strong sense of well-being. Older people who report being physically active have even been found to live longer.

Despite the wealth of evidence, some researchers have questioned its reliability. Previous studies have used questionnaires to assess the activity levels of older people, a method at risk for inaccuracies.

A test considered to be the most accurate way to evaluate total energy expenditure uses water labeled with hydrogen and oxygen that can be measured as they leave the body as water (in the case of both hydrogen and oxygen) or carbon dioxide (in the case of oxygen). This objective measurement can be used to determine the energy spent during ordinary activities in addition to what is spent exercising.

The latest study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, used this method to determine energy expenditure in 302 healthy people between 70 and 82 years old. Physical activity level and energy spent in the activities of daily life (activity energy expenditure) were calculated. The participants were followed for an average of slightly more than six years. Of those who died during the study, most had lower levels of both physical activity and activity energy expenditure; their risk of dying was almost 25%, while the risk of death was only about 12% in those with the highest levels of physical activity and active energy expenditure.

These results show that the physical activity associated with the ordinary activities of daily life and the energy spent in them might have a significant impact on an older person’s health. The authors estimated from their findings that for every 1.25 hours per day spent in activities such as household chores, child or adult care, lawn work, moderate walking, or other nonsitting work, the risk of death is reduced by 30%.

“It’s never too late to start being more active,” said Carolyn Hooper Goetinck, an ACE-certified personal trainer and senior fitness trainer. “Older people can do things like work in the garden, vacuum, and go for walks. They don’t necessarily have to exercise vigorously to benefit from raising their daily energy output.”

Hooper Goetinck added that the seniors she works with are more fearful about losing their independence and quality of life than of dying. “It’s great to see another study showing that being active can extend life, but to me, the real benefit of having a more active lifestyle is the potential for decent quality of life as we age.”

(JAMA 2006;296:171–9)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.