It Just Takes Light Activity Daily
to Help Older Adults Avoid Disability
Researchers claim to be first to find
health, aging benefits of light activities
By Erin White
April 30, 2014 - Pushing a shopping
cart or a vacuum doesnt take a lot of effort, but enough of this sort
of light physical activity every day can help older people with or at
risk of knee arthritis avoid developing disabilities as they age,
according to a new Northwestern Medicine study.
It is known that the more time
people spend in moderate or vigorous activities, the less likely they
are to develop disability, but this is the first study to show that
spending more time in light activities can help prevent disability, too.
Our findings provide encouragement
for adults who may not be candidates to increase physical activity
intensity due to health limitations, said Dorothy Dunlop, professor of
medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and lead
author of the study.
Even among those who did almost no moderate
activity, the more light activity they did, the less likely they were to
Results of the study were published
April 29 in the British Medical Journal.
The scientists identified a group
of almost 1,700 adults, ages 45 to 79, from the Osteoarthritis
Initiative study who were free of disability but were at elevated risk
for developing it because they had knee osteoarthritis or other risk
factors for knee osteoarthritis, such as obesity.
Knee osteoarthritis commonly leads
to disability, preventing people from engaging in activities essential
to independent living and quality of life, such as dressing, bathing,
walking across a room or making telephone calls, managing money and
grocery shopping. Two-thirds of obese adults are expected to develop
knee osteoarthritis during their lifetime.
To track the amount and intensity
of physical activity these at-risk people engaged in every day,
scientists had them wear an accelerometer during waking hours for about
a week. The device is worn around the hip and measures the intensity of
movement. The data collected reveals how much time is spent in vigorous,
moderate or light activities.
Two years after collecting the
results from the accelerometer, participants were surveyed and asked
about the development of disabilities. As expected, more time spent in
moderate or vigorous activity was associated with lower reports of
disabilities, but researchers were pleased to find that greater time
spent in light intensity activities also was related to fewer
disabilities, even after accounting for time spent in moderate
Those who spent more than four
hours per day doing light physical activity had more than a 30 percent
reduction in the risk for developing disability compared to those
spending only three hours a day in light activity (the least average
number of hours collected in the study).
The findings controlled for time
spent in moderate or vigorous physical activity and other predictors of
disability, both demographic and health factors.
We were delighted to see that more
time spent during the day, simply moving your body, even at a light
intensity, may reduce disability, Dunlop said. Now people with health
problems or physical limitations, who cannot increase the intensity of
their activity, have a starting place in the effort to stay
This study is funded in part by
National Institute for Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases of the
National Institutes of Health and by the Falk Medical Trust. The
publically released Osteoarthritis Initiative data were funded through a
public-private partnership comprised of five contracts awarded by the
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