Older Adults Should Keep on Exercising: Benefits Accumulate as People Age
During 53-year study, grip strength, standing balance, chair rise times used as indicators of strength, physical
Aug. 25, 2011 Adults are encouraged to exercise at any age, even if they have not exercised in the past. A new study,
however, puts emphasis on those who have exercised in younger years to keep on doing it, because the benefits of physical activity accumulate
over a lifetime.
In this new study published in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Researchers in
England and Australia examined the associations of leisure time physical activity across adulthood with physical performance and strength in
midlife in a group of British men and women followed since birth in March 1946.
"Maintaining physical performance and muscle strength with age is important given that lower levels in older populations
are associated with increased risk of subsequent health problems, loss of independence, and shorter survival times," commented lead
investigator Rachel Cooper, PhD, Medical Research Council (MRC) Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing.
"As the global population ages, there is a growing need to identify modifiable factors across life that influence
physical performance and strength in later life. We found that there are cumulative benefits of physical activity across adulthood on physical
performance in mid-life. Increased activity should be promoted early in adulthood to ensure the maintenance of physical performance in later
Promotion of leisure time activity is likely to become increasingly important in younger populations as people's daily
routines become more sedentary."
The study, conducted by investigators from the MRC Unit for Lifelong Health, London, United Kingdom, and the School of
Population Health, University of Queensland, Australia, used data from about 2400 men and women from the UK Medical Research Council National
Survey of Health and Development.
They analyzed self-reported leisure time physical activity (LTPA) levels at 36, 43 and 53 years of age. During the
53-year investigation, grip strength, standing balance, and chair rise times were measured as indicators of strength and physical performance.
Grip strength is a measure of upper-body muscle condition. Chair-rise times are associated with lower body strength and
power, as well as cardiorespiratory fitness. Standing balance requires mental concentration and subtle motor control and measures a number of
neurophysiological and sensory systems.
● Participants who were more active at all three ages showed better performance on the chair-rise test.
● Persons more active at ages 43 and 53 had better performance on the standing balance test, even after adjusting for
However, physical activity and grip strength were not associated in women and, in men, only physical activity at age 53
was associated with grip strength.
Dr. Cooper added that the findings in relation to chair rising and standing balance performance suggest that promotion of
leisure time physical activity across adulthood would have beneficial effects on physical performance later in life and hence the functional
health and quality of life of the aging population, especially as the size of the differences in performance detected may be clinically
The article is "Physical Activity Across Adulthood and Physical Performance in Midlife: Findings from a British Birth
Cohort" by Rachel Cooper, PhD, Gita D. Mishra, PhD, and Diana Kuh, PhD. (doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2011.06.035). It appears in the American
Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 41, Issue 4 (October 2011) published by Elsevier.
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