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Walking Helps Seniors Take Aging in Stride

A news study by researchers at the University of Georgia
shows that older folks who kept up with a walking program for four months
had "significant" health improvements over a group that didn't
walk.

"In the past decade, researchers have focused on the benefits of strength training in
maintaining independence, but until now we didn't have good evidence using an
objective performance measure that a walking program would improve physical
functioning," researcher M. Elaine Cress, PhD says in a news release.

"Our study found that walking offers tremendous health benefits that can
help older adults stay independent," says Cress, a professor of kinesiology
and a researcher in the University of Georgia Institute of Gerontology.

The Participants


  • 26 adults (22 women and four men), 60 or older were enrolled.

  • 24 of the participants finished the study.

  • 38% of the participants had an annual income below $9,570, which is
    considered poverty level.


 

The Study

The participants were randomly split into two groups, the walkers and a
control group, which attended nutrition education classes.

The walkers met three times a week for four months.

At first, they walked for 10 minutes straight. It was increased to 40
minutes, with 10 minutes of warm-up and cool-down stretching .

Both groups were given a battery of tests to assess aerobic capacity and
physical function, which included how well the participants performed simple
daily living tasks such as putting on a jacket or carrying a bag of
groceries.

Both groups had baseline testing at the beginning and end of the study.

After just four months, the walking group fared much better in all levels of
fitness.

Results


  • Physical function scores increased by 25% for the walking group, but
    decreased by 8.3% in the other group. The walking group's disability risk
    decreased by 41%.

  • Peak aerobic capacity increased 19% for the walkers.

  • Peak aerobic capacity declined 9% for the control group.


"Aerobic capacity is really the engine that we draw upon for doing the
things we want to do, whether it's cleaning up around the house or running a marathon," Cress
says. "By increasing their aerobic capacity, the walking group was better
able to perform their daily tasks and had more energy left over for
recreational activities, like going out dancing."

Researcher Trudy Moore-Harrison, PhD says not only were the results telling,
but the participants "really enjoyed the program" and "got a chance
to know their neighbors."

"We know that walking is good for you, but too many people still aren't
doing it," Moore-Harrison says in a news release. "This study shows
that just walking on a regular basis can make a huge impact on quality of
life."

The researchers write that most exercise intervention studies involve people
who are affluent. They stress the importance of looking at lower economic
segments of society.

They urge further research into whether low-cost walking programs can make a
difference in helping people with lower incomes enjoy healthier, independent
older years.

The results are published in the Journal of Geriatric Physical
Therapy
.

By Kelley Colihan
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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