Senior Citizens Should Walk Fast to Live Longer

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Two studies seem to prove that aging does not necessarily mean sedentary lifestyle:

Too many senior citizens assume that becoming inactive – sitting around doing not much of anything most of the time – is just what happens with getting older. Two research reports seem to prove this is just not true – life can be different with changing our mindset and, the second study finds, we will live longer if we just walk a little faster.

The program testing the results of changing the mindsets of older people was by UCLA researchers. Seniors in the pilot program became more physically active, increasing their walking by about 24 percent – an average increase of 2.5 miles per week.

The second study on speed of walking, which found that improvement in usual gait speed predicts a substantial reduction in mortality, is from the Division of Geriatric Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh.

Both studies which looked at people aged 65 or older appear in the issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Changing Mindset Works:
“We can teach older adults to get rid of those old beliefs that becoming sedentary is just a normal part of growing older,” said Dr. Catherine Sarkisian, assistant professor of geriatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the study’s lead author. “We can teach them that they can and should remain physically active at all ages.”

The researchers used a technique known as “attribution retraining” to effect a change among study participants about what it means to age and what to expect out of it.

“The exciting part is that, to our knowledge, this attribution retraining component hasn’t been tested in a physical activity intervention,” Sarkisian said. “It’s been very successful in educational interventions.”

The researchers worked with 46 sedentary senior citizens age 65 and older from three senior centers in the Los Angeles area.

The participants attended four weekly, hour-long group sessions led by a trained health educator who applied an attribution retraining curriculum. The participants were taught to reject the notion that becoming older means becoming sedentary and to accept that they can continue engaging in physical activity well into old age.

Each attribution retraining session was followed by a one-hour exercise class that included strength, endurance and flexibility training.

Participants were fitted with electronic pedometers, to be worn at all times, which measured the number of steps they took each week. They also completed surveys that gauged their expectations about aging — higher scores indicated that participants expected high functioning with aging, while lower scores meant they expected physical and mental decline.

As a result of the program, participants increased the number of steps they took per week from a mean of 24,749 to 30,707 — a 24 percent increase — and their scores on the age-expectation survey rose by 30 percent .


Also, their mental health-related quality of life improved, and they reported fewer difficulties with daily activities, experienced less pain, had higher energy levels and slept better.

“An intervention combining attribution retraining with a weekly exercise class raised walking levels and improved quality of life in sedentary older adults in this small pre-post community-based pilot study,” the researchers wrote. “Attribution retraining deserves further investigation as a potential means of increasing physical activity in sedentary older adults.”

Live Longer by Walking Faster:
The study on walking speed looked at 439 senior citizens to estimate the relationship between 1-year improvement in measures of health and physical function and 8-year survival.

Six measures of health and function were checked quarterly over 1 year.

Participants were classified for each measure as –
? improved at 1 year,
? transiently improved, or
? never improved.

Mortality was ascertained from the National Death Index.

Of the six measures, only improved gait speed was associated with survival.

Mortality after 8 years determined by the gait speed measurement was
31.6% – for improved,
41.2% – for transiently improved, and
49.3% – for never improved,.

The authors concluded, “Because gait speed is easily measured, clinically interpretable, and potentially modifiable, it may be a useful ‘vital sign’ for older adults.”

But, they also said, “Further research is needed to determine whether interventions to improve gait speed affect survival.”

About faster gait speed…
“Improvement in Usual Gait Speed Predicts Better Survival in Older Adults,” was by Susan E. Hardy MD, PhD, Subashan Perera PhD, Yazan F. Roumani MS, MBA, Julie M. Chandler PhD, Stephanie A. Studenski MD, MPH (2007)


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