Walking exercise improves physical functioning in elderly

The elderly can reduce their likelihood of developing disabilities and maintain their independence by 41 percent, through a walking exercise program, reveals a new study at the University of Georgia.

The report of the study, which appeared in the current issue of Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy, indicates that the participants, who increase their peak aerobic capacity by 19 percent, can see an increase of 25 percent in their physical functioning. According to the study walking offers immense health benefits that help older adults in remaining independent.

The Co-author of the study, Prof. M. Elaine Cress, a researcher in the UGA Institute of Gerontology, said that although during the past decade the researchers analyzed and confirmed the benefits of strength training in maintaining independence, there has never been solid evidence using an objective performance measure, confirming that walking program would improve physical functioning.

The researchers randomly assigned about 26 low-income adults (as the low-income group is usually considered to less active physically and tend to suffer chronic health conditions due to lack of health care) aged 60 and above to either a walking exercise group, or a nutrition education control group. The group would initially walk for 10 minutes continuously. With the progress in weeks, the walking time was gradually increased to 40 minutes at a stretch. Every session commenced with a ten minutes warm-up and 10-minute cool down, including the balance and flexibility exercises.

The aerobic capacity of the participants were measured through a treadmill test, and it was found that while the control group saw a decline by 9 percent in aerobic capacity over a four-month study period, the aerobic capacity of the walking group increased by 19 percent during the same period.

Aerobic capacity is the energy drawn for doing things such as cleaning up the house or running a marathon.

Cress revealed that as the aerobic capacity of the walking group increased, they were able to perform their daily tasks in a better manner, and had more energy left for recreational activities such as going out or dancing. Even health status and body pain was assessed through questionnaires and the disability levels were measured based on performance on factors such as walking and balancing. Physical functioning was measured based on both questionnaires and through tests which measured how well volunteers performed their daily activities such as climbing stairs or putting on/removing a jacket.

It was found that the physical functioning increased by 24 percent in the walking group, as against the decrease by one percent in the control group. While the control group saw their risk of disability being increased over a four-month period, the walking exercise group saw that their disability risk fell from 66 percent to 25 percent, i.e., the decrease of 41 percent in just four months.

Although, it is a known fact that walking is good, many people still neglect it. The study confirms that walking on a regular basis can make a huge impact on quality of life.

The research is supported by the UGA Institute of Gerontology Seed Grant, the Northeast Georgia Area Agency on Aging, and the Georgia Gerontology Consortium Seed Grant, together in co-operation with the Athens Housing Authority.