Doing Something Is Better Than Nothing: Even Light Physical Activity Improves Health

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Michael J. LaMonte, PhD, MPH Research Associate Professor Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health Co-Director, MPH Program (epidemiology) School of Public Health and Health Professions Women’s Health Initiative Clinic University at Buffalo – SUNY 

Dr. LaMonte

Michael J. LaMonte, PhD, MPH
Research Associate Professor
Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health
Co-Director, MPH Program (epidemiology)
School of Public Health and Health Professions
Women’s Health Initiative Clinic
University at Buffalo – SUNY 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Current national public health guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week for adults. The guidelines recommend persons 65 and older follow the adult guidelines to the degree their abilities and conditions allow. Some people, because of age or illness or deconditioning, are not able to do more strenuous activity. Current guidelines do not specifically encourage light activity because the evidence base to support such a recommendation has been lacking.

Results from the Objective Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Health (OPACH) Study, an ancillary study to the U.S. Women’s Health Initiative, recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society showed women ages 65-99 who engaged in regular light intensity physical activities had a reduction in the risk of mortality. The 6,000 women in the OPACH study wore an activity-measuring device called an accelerometer on their hip for seven days while going about their daily activities and were then followed for up to four and a half years.  Results showed that just 30 additional minutes of light physical activity per day lowered mortality risk by 12 percent while 30 additional minutes of moderate activity, such as brisk walking or bicycling at a leisurely pace, exhibited a 39 percent lower risk. 

The finding for lower mortality risk associated with light intensity activity truly is remarkable. We anticipated seeing mortality benefit associated with regular moderate-to-vigorous intensity activity, as supported by current public health guidelines. But, observing significantly lower mortality among women who were active at levels only slightly higher than what defines being sedentary was such a novel finding with important relevance to population health.

To make our analysis of physical activity even more specific to older women, we also conducted a laboratory study in a subset of study participants during which we aligned the accelerometer information with completion of activity tasks germane to older women’s usual daily activity habits. No other study as large as ours and specifically on older women has included this step to enhance interpretation of accelerometer data in a context relevant to the study participants.

Of additional noteworthiness, we found that the benefit of light physical activity extended to all subgroups examined, including different racial/ethnic backgrounds, obese and non-obese women, women with high and low functional ability, women with multiple existing health problems, and women older and younger than age 80.

MedicalResearch.com: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: Our study shows, for the first time in older women that there are health benefits at activity levels below the guideline recommendations. Common daily activities done by older, such as walking to the mailbox, strolling around the neighborhood, folding clothes and straightening up the house, likely improve their health. The bottom line? Doing something is better than nothing. Older people expend more energy doing the same kinds of activities they did when younger, so their daily movement has to accommodate for this. It’s not one size fits all when it comes to physical activity levels and types for health. The paradigm needs to shift when we think about being active at older ages.

By 2050, the population group aged 65 and older will have doubled since 2000, reaching nearly 77 million,  with the greatest growth expected in the 80+ group. Women in this age group will outnumber men 2-to-1 at the current expected growth pattern. Our results suggest that the health benefits of lighter activity could reach a large swath of women in an aging society.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Additional large, prospective studies including both women and men of various race-ethnicities and ages are needed in which physical activity and sedentary behavior are measured using accelerometers opposed to questionnaires to better calibrate the effect of these behaviors on disease endpoints of interest. The focus should be on health effects across the entire range of physical activity duration and intensity including habitual light intensity activities of daily living that are extremely challenging to assess using questionnaires.

Disclosures: Study Funding was through the National Institutes of Health/National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Co-authors include: David Bucher, University of Illinois; Eileen Rillamas-Sun, Lesly Tinker, and Chongzhi Di, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; Kelley Evenson, University of North Carolina; John Bellettiere, University of California San Diego; Cora Lewis, University of Alabama; I-Min Lee, Harvard University; Rebecca Seguin, Cornell University; Oleg Zaslovsky, University of Washington; Charles Eaton, Brown University; Marcia Stefanick, Stanford University; and Andrea LaCroix, University of California San Diego.

MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.

Citation:

LaMonte, M. J., Buchner, D. M., Rillamas-Sun, E., Di, C., Evenson, K. R., Bellettiere, J., Lewis, C. E., Lee, I.-M., Tinker, L. F., Seguin, R., Zaslovsky, O., Eaton, C. B., Stefanick, M. L. and LaCroix, A. Z. (2017), Accelerometer-Measured Physical Activity and Mortality in Women Aged 63 to 99. J Am Geriatr Soc. doi:10.1111/jgs.15201

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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