While exercise has long been promoted as the elixir of youth, a large clinical trial conducted partly at Tufts University finally provides strong proof for the claim: It found that elderly people who walked and did basic strengthening exercises on a daily basis were less likely to become physically disabled compared to those who did not exercise regularly.
Researchers recruited sedentary people ages 70 to 89 years who had trouble walking more than a quarter-mile. Half of them were randomly assigned to participate in a daily exercise program, and after nearly three years, they had an 18 percent lower risk of losing their walking abilities compared with the others, who were instructed to take health education classes.
The people in the exercise group participated in fitness classes and home workouts. Still, despite working up to a 30-minute brisk walk over the course of the study, they were not able to sidestep disabilities completely. During the study, 30 percent of them had trouble walking and performing routine tasks, at least temporarily, compared with nearly 36 percent of those in the control group, the ones given health education. The disabilities persisted for nearly 15 percent of the exercise group, compared with nearly 20 percent of the control group.
One strength of the study, the authors noted, was that it enrolled typical seniors, with an assortment of chronic illnesses.
“These were people who began the study with health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, and previous heart attacks and strokes,” said coauthor Roger Fielding, a senior scientist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts, “far from the healthier populations typically enrolled in clinical trials.”