A Study from Tufts University Shows the Benefits of Exercise for Older Adults

Researchers from the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University wanted to see if the benefits of physical activity in a clinical setting translated to a real-world environment at the Somerville Council on Aging.

elderly working out

Photo via iStockphoto.com / yacobchuk

Quick fixes on aging are all the rage right now—get botox here, laser hair removal there, and don’t forget to drink your collagen in your morning cup of joe. But what if the simple act of walking or participating in light physical activity could keep not only your bones and joints happy and healthy but boost your mood, improve your quality of life, and decrease your risk of falls?

In a study conducted at the Somerville Council on Aging, researchers from Tufts University set out to find just that. But they also wanted to see if the benefits of an earlier controlled clinical trial, which found structured physical activity could reduce mobility loss in older adults, translated to a real-world environment. The six-month study employed 40 adults (65-89 years old) with mobility limitations and assigned half to a structured program of walking, strength, flexibility, and balance training, and half to a health education control group.

Comparing commitment to the program they were assigned, mobility levels, cognitive function, quality of life, depressive symptoms, and risk of falls between the two groups, the researchers found that participants who attended at least 25 percent of the scheduled weekly physical activity classes showed increases in executive cognitive function, improvements in quality of life, and a notable reduction (approximately 60 percent) in the occurrence of falls.

“The overarching objective of the pilot study was to translate the physical activity program from a rigorously controlled clinical setting to a representative, real-world environment for older adults,” Kieran F. Reid, corresponding author and scientist at Tufts, said in a news release. “We wanted to test whether the physical activity intervention could be safely and effectively integrated within the existing infrastructure of the senior center. The results were very encouraging.”

Not only were participants shown to benefit physically from exercise, but the benefits of the social aspect were huge, giving them a chance to get out of the house and smile and laugh with other people—something that is often not feasible for elderly adults with limited mobility. And with the promising results of this study, but possible limitations from the small sample size and short duration, researchers plan to continue looking at the positive effects of physical activity in a variety of community-based settings by developing a larger-scale study.

We’re all getting a little older every day, so this news isn’t only applicable to the elderly. What are you doing now to keep your body supple and agile as it ages?