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Elderly Improve With Exercise, Too

By Rosalie Marion Bliss
March 14, 2008

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans strongly urge people to engage in regular physical activity and avoid sedentary pastimes. That's because previous research has provided evidence that physical activity and nutrition work together for better health. Agricultural Research Service (ARS)-funded scientists have again reported on how the elderly also can engage in physical activity to improve quality of life. ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

In a recent study involving a group of 213 volunteers aged 70 to 89 years, the better the participants' adherence to a physical activity program, the greater their improvements in physical functioning. The study was led by physiologist Roger Fielding with the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts University, Boston, Mass. He is director of the center's Nutrition, Exercise Physiology and Sarcopenia Laboratory.

At the beginning of the study, all of the male and female volunteers were sedentary and had a variety of physical health problems. The researchers found that more than half were able to engage in regular moderate exercise for one year. Those who improved the most reported exercising 150 minutes or more per week. The study was published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

An earlier HNRCA study also showed that the elderly can get in step with exercise. Each of 70 study volunteers, aged 70 years or older, were "aging in place" (meaning living at home) and had some functional impairment. The participants were randomly assigned to either a home-based progressive strength, balance and general-physical-activity intervention, or to a group that received home-based nutrition education.

After six months, each volunteer was tested for strength, balance, gait speed and cardiovascular endurance. The researchers concluded that minimally supervised exercise is safe and can improve functional performance in elderly individuals. The study was published in Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences.

Read more about ARS research and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in the March 2008 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.