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10 Minutes of Daily Exercise Could Prevent Disability in Old Age, Study Finds

Health + Wellness

Physical activity may be one of the best defenses against the onset of disability in old age, according to a new study.

Researchers at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine found that being moderately active for just one hour per week helped to prevent mobility-limiting disabilities in older adults with lower extremity joint pain and stiffness.


The study, published this week in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, examined data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative on more than 1,500 adults aged 49 to 83 from cities around the U.S. The subjects, who experienced osteoarthritis-related pain but did not yet have a disability, were monitored from 2008 to 2014.

Osteoarthritis is a common form of arthritis associated with aging and gradual joint wear and tear. It affects millions of Americans — especially in their knees — and around two in five of those affected eventually develop a mobility or daily living disability, the researchers said in a press release.

The researchers found that subjects who performed an hour of moderate-to-vigorous exercise each week — including simply walking briskly for 10 minutes a day — reduced their risk of developing certain disabilities by as much as 85 percent. After four years, they were more likely to be able to safely cross the street in time, walk across their homes or perform their morning routines than those who did less exercise.

"Identifying an evidence-based physical activity goal which supports these basic abilities may motivate inactive older adults to begin their path towards health benefits from a physically active lifestyle," lead author of the study Dorothy D. Dunlop, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern Medicine told CNN. "If future work shows one hour a week of moderate activity is beneficially related to other health outcomes, this threshold could provide an intermediate physical activity goal."

The study adds to a growing body of research associating physical activities like walking or gardening with healthy longevity. Another recent study found that replacing 30 minutes of sitting down with light physical activity reduced risk of an early death by half.

The researchers admitted that the study, which they said is the first of its kind to examine whether there is a minimum amount of exercise that still yields health benefits for older adults, was not without limitations. For instance, the accelerometers they used to track exercise could not be used to measure aquatic activities and may have underestimated the effects of cycling.

Still, the findings are encouraging for those adults who are inactive or get less than the 2.5 hours of physical activity each week recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The more active you are, the more health benefits you get," Dunlop told USA TODAY. "But if you can start to do at least 10 minutes a day of moderate activity, that may help you hold on to your abilities to stay independent."

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