Walking Into Your Nineties

Suppose you’ve always wanted to start exercising, but you’ve procrastinated for awhile, a very, very long while. In fact, you are a comfortably sedentary 85 years old now, and it seems like it’s too late to do any good. Well, according to new research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, it’s never too late.

If they get moving, even people approaching their ninth decade can lengthen their lives and maintain their independence. All it takes is four hours a week of gentle activity such as walking.

Dr. Jeremy Jacobs of Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem and his colleagues studied nearly 2,000 seniors from 77 to 88 years old, dividing them into an active group (those who exercised at least four hours a week), and a sedentary group.  Over a period of 18 years, the active group, they found, just lived longer.

Among active 70-year-olds, only 15 percent of active people died over the next eight years, compared to 27 percent of sedentary people. Among 78-year-olds, only 26 percent of active people died over the next eight years, compared to 41 percent of sedentary people. And among 85-year-olds, only seven percent of active people died over the next three years, compared to 24 percent of sedentary people. And these differences remained significant even after the researchers corrected for other influences on longevity, including health and risk factors.

The active group not only lived longer-they also lived better. Those who were active when they were 78 were nearly twice as likely to be still independently caring for themselves when they reached 85.

Obviously, it’s critical to set up any new exercise program, no matter how gentle, in collaboration with your physician, and to take precautions appropriate to your age and state of health. But it’s good to know that it’s never too late. And, as Dr. Jacobs noted in an email to Reuters Health, walking in particular has psychosocial health benefits as well. “In addition to the physical benefits,” he said, “The act of getting outside daily, meeting people, interacting with the outside world, and changing seasons are all ingredients of successful aging.”


Archives of Internal Medicine

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Mayo Clinic