Regular Walking Nearly Halves Disability Risk
Older adults can decrease their risk of disability and increase their likelihood of maintaining independence by 41 percent by participating in a walking exercise program, according to a new University of Georgia study. The study, which appears in the current issue of the Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy, also found that walking program participants increased their peak aerobic capacity by 19 percent and increased their physical function by 25 percent.
Study co-author M. Elaine Cress, professor of kinesiology and researcher in the UGA Institute of Gerontology, said, "Our study found that walking offers tremendous health benefits that can help older adults stay independent."
Trudy Moore-Harrison, the lead author of the study emphasized that walking doesn't require any special equipment other than a pair of comfortable shoes, which makes it a simple and low-cost way for people to become active. Moore-Harrison supervised the walking group, but said that motivated community members could lead similar groups across the country.
Getting people to stick with exercise programs can be notoriously difficult, but the researchers found that every single member of the group stayed with the program for its four-month duration. "People really enjoyed the program," said Moore-Harrison. "It gave them an opportunity to make new friends and get to know their neighbors."
The researchers measured the aerobic capacity of the participants using a treadmill test and found that while the control group saw a nine percent decline in aerobic capacity over the four-month study period, the aerobic capacity of the walking group increased by 19 percent over the same time period.
"Aerobic capacity is really the engine that we draw upon for doing the things we want to do, whether it's cleaning up around the house or running a marathon," Cress said. "By increasing their aerobic capacity, the walking group was better able to perform their daily tasks and had more energy left over for recreational activities, like going out dancing."
The researchers assessed health status and bodily pain through questionnaires and examined disability by measuring performance on factors such as balance and walking. Physical functioning was measured through both questionnaires and through tests that measured how well the volunteers performed daily activities such as climbing a flight of stairs and putting on and removing a jacket.
The researchers found that physical function increased by 25 percent in the walking exercise group, compared to a decrease of 1 percent in the control group. While the control group saw their risk of disability increase over the four-month period, the walking exercise group saw their disability risk go from 66 percent to 25 percent – a decrease of 41 percent in just four months.
"We know that walking is good for you, but too many people still aren't doing it," Moore-Harrison said. "This study shows that just walking on a regular basis can make a huge impact on quality of life."
This article was adapted from a press release issued by University of Georgia.