Walking an hour per week prevents disability in older adults

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Old couple walking in park
Old couple walking in park

Older adults who walk at least an hour every week are more likely to keep disability at bay

An hour of weekly brisk walking helps prevent disability in older adults with osteoarthritis.

Just one hour a week of brisk walking staves off disability in older adults with arthritis pain, or aching or stiffness in a knee, hip, ankle or foot, reports a new study. “This is less than 10 minutes a day for people to maintain their independence. It’s very doable,” said lead author Dorothy Dunlop, professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

The study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

It is estimated that approximately two in five people with osteoarthritis – mostly knee, hip and ankle joint develop disability limitations.

The study found an hour of weekly moderate-to-vigorous physical activity allowed older adults to maintain their ability to perform daily tasks like getting dressed or cross a street before a traffic light walk signal changed

The study found an hour of weekly moderate-to-vigorous physical activity allowed older adults to maintain their ability to perform daily tasks like getting dressed or cross a street before a traffic light walk signal changed.

Researchers analyzed four years of data from more than 1,500 American adults in the National Osteoarthritis Initiative. The adults all had pain, aching or stiffness in lower extremity joints from osteoarthritis but were free of disability when they began the study. Their physical activity was monitored using accelerometers.

Results showed that weekly hour of exercise reduced their risk of mobility disability (walking too slowly to safely cross a street or less than one meter per second) by 85 percent and their risk of activities of daily living disability by almost 45 percent.

Four years after the start of the study, 24 percent of adults who did not get the weekly hour of brisk physical activity were walking too slowly to safely cross the street, and 23 percent reported problems performing their morning routine.

Health guidelines recommend older adults with arthritis should participate in low-impact activity. For health benefits like reducing the risk for heart disease and many other chronic diseases, these guidelines recommend older adults participate in at least 2.5 hours a week of moderate-intensity activity.

“We hope this new public health finding will motivate an intermediate physical activity goal,” Dunlop said. “One hour a week is a stepping stone for people who are currently inactive. People can start to work toward that.”