A combination of aerobic, resistance, and flexibility training can keep older people on their feet, according to the longest and largest trial to address the question.
Researchers randomly assigned 1,635 sedentary older adults aged 70 to 89 to either a moderate-intensity physical activity program or to a control group that participated in gentle arm stretching exercises and workshops on health.
The physical activity program—which took place both at a fitness center (twice a week) and at home (3 to 4 times a week)—had a daily goal of 30 minutes of walking briskly, 10 minutes of strength training for legs, 10 minutes of balance training, and large muscle group flexibility exercises.
After 2½ years, the physical activity group had an 18 percent lower risk of major mobility disability (an inability to walk roughly a quarter mile within 15 minutes without sitting or help from another person).
The physical activity group also had a 28 percent lower risk of persistent mobility disability, indicating that exercise helps people recover after they temporarily lose mobility.
What to do: Go for a walk, swim, run, or bike ride. Play some golf, tennis, or racquetball. Go dancing, take a Zumba class, or do some gardening. Add some strength training and stretching.
For more information, see the National Institute on Aging (go4life.nia.nih.gov/exercises) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/adults.html).
Source: JAMA 311: 2387, 2014.