Some is better than none: exercise yields mortality benefits in older adults

By Jane Lewis
A meta-analysis of studies investigating the relationship between mortality and moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity (MVPA) in older adults has shown that even a small amount of such activity can significantly reduce mortality.

With an estimated 60% or more of older adults failing to achieve the recommended 150 minutes per week of MVPA, the French researchers set out to determine whether a lower ‘dose’ of MVPA could be effective in reducing mortality in adults aged 60 years and over, as has been demonstrated in the general population.

The meta-analysis, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, examined data from nine prospective cohort studies, involving 122,417 people aged 60 years or over who were followed up for seven to 12 years. Compared with participants who did no MVPA, those who did the recommended amount experienced a 28% reduction in mortality. However, those who did less MPVA than recommended (<150 min/week) still benefited from a 22% reduction in mortality – only 6% less. A dose-response effect was evident, with mortality reduced to the greatest extent (35%) in those who engaged in the most physical activity (>150 min/week).

Professor Adrian Bauman, Director of the Prevention Research Collaboration, Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney, said the research demonstrated a clear protective effect of even 15 minutes of daily moderate to vigorous physical activity for older adults.

‘The data in this study suggest that any activity is better than none, and this is particularly noted in older women, more than in older men,’ he commented.

According to the researchers, their findings suggest ‘a curvilinear relationship between MVPA and mortality,’ and ‘the greatest benefits are seen in those who change from doing the least or no MVPA to doing more.’

‘This research had important policy implications,’ said Professor Bauman. ‘If the maximum health gain occurs in people doing the first 15 minutes of activity, compared with those doing none, it may be appropriate to broaden the message around promoting physical activity for health in this age group.’

Based on their results, the authors recommend at least 15 minutes of MVPA five days per week as a first target for older adults, which could include activities such as brisk walking, cycling or swimming. General practitioners have a key role in promoting physical activity, they added, suggesting a good message to convey may be ‘Even a little is good, more may be better!’

Br J Sports Med 2015; doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2014-094306.

Picture credit: © MUPH/Shutterstock.