Friday, June 27, 2014

The Golden Quarter Mile

By Sarah Canavese, guest blogger

Living longer is important to many seniors and their families. But staying active and maintaining the same quality of life is for many even more critical. Health professionals have often said that exercise is important to maintain quality of life as we age, but provided little guidance on how much is really needed. Now, new research shows that a quarter of a mile, or one loop around a standard track, is enough to help most seniors stay active and keep physical disabilities at bay.

Dr. Marco Pahor, director of the Institute on Aging at the University of Florida, Gainesville, led the study which found people in their 70s and 80s are more likely to retain their ability to get around on their own when they take part in a moderate-intensity exercise program.

Pahor’s Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) study looked at whether different types of exercise programs could help lower the risk of immobility among seniors. The researchers also wanted to know whether these exercise programs would lower the rates of disability and illness, as well as early death among seniors. (See the related video from UFHealth)

Between 2010 and 2011, the researchers followed 1,635 men and women from across the Unites States ages 70 to 89 that could walk roughly a quarter of a mile without any type of assistance.

Participants were split into two separate groups. The first group was randomly assigned to a structured exercise program, where they were given instructions to exercise by walking and taking part in strength, balance, and flexibility training. They participated in three to four home sessions and two visits to a medical center each week as well.

The second group was not instructed to exercise but instead was assigned to a health education group where they attended weekly meetings on healthy aging during the first 26 weeks of the study and monthly meetings thereafter.

Every six months, the two groups were tested on their ability to walk a quarter of a mile without assistance.

After being enrolled in the study for two and a half years, the active participants stayed active and were able to prevent physical disability or mobility loss. In fact, as reported by an article from the University of Florida, “moderate physical activity helped aging adults maintain their ability to walk at a rate of 18 percent higher than older adults who do not exercise”.

This study is important for many towns across Missouri. Overall, almost 15 percent of Show-Me State residents are 65 years old or older and that percentage is only expected to increase as more Baby Boomers age. To help Missouri’s seniors stay active, independent and healthy longer, Livable Streets or Complete Streets policies can be helpful tools in preparing for the future today.

As one participant, Mildred Johnston, 82, a retired office worker from Gainesville, Florida, who participated in the study said, “Exercising has changed my whole aspect on what aging means. It’s not about how much help you need from other people now. It’s more about what I can do for myself.”

No matter what kind of policy a town passes, for many seniors, those words couldn’t be more golden.

Learn more about Missouri Livable Streets.