Walking and weight loss in seniors are two promisingly related items according to a new study, particularly in overweight adults with poor heart health. In the study, participants were divided into groups and asked to participate in a physical activity and weight loss program, only a physical activity, or only an education on aging. The results included the exercising participants having the ability to walk a distance of 400 meters at a 5% faster pace than those that simply underwent the educational program. Those participants in the study who suffered from quite limited mobility improved by up to 20%.
In total, 288 participants age 60 to 79 were tracked by researchers for 18 months. The physical activity group showed positive results for poor mobility in seniors, but the researchers noted that the combined physical activity and weight loss intervention group showed the most dramatic results. The 400-meter walking distance is a measurement commonly used to assess the mobility of older adults. Those who cannot walk the full distance run a high chance of losing their independence in the upcoming years.
The commonly held belief that older adults losing weight is unhealthy is one that is countered by the findings from this study. If obese adults want to improve their mobility, exercise and efforts to achieve weight loss need to become a priority. Jack Rejeski, a study researcher and professor of health and exercise science at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said, “This is one of the first large studies to show that weight loss program improves the functional health of older people with cardiovascular disease.” Clearly, thanks to the findings from this study, seniors with poor mobility may be able to find help through community agencies that are established to provide solutions for poor mobility in seniors.
With an increase in the elderly population, and the fact that 60% of older adults walk less than a mile per week, there is clearly a critical need for “cost-effective, community-based intervention programs to improve the mobility of seniors,” Rejeski said. Perhaps this study connecting walking and weight loss in seniors will spur the creation of such programs around the country. Despite the obvious importance to some of improving mobility among seniors, many do not realize the severity of the issue. Rejeski said, “It is like being in a canoe paddling down a river, and being completely unaware that a waterfall is only a short distance away. Once your canoe starts down the waterfall of disability, the consequences are severe.”
The “waterfall” in Rejeski’s analogy can include hospitalization, a worsening of the mobility impairment, and eventually death, which is more likely to occur when seniors cannot get around easily. Also, higher cost medical care is required to care for seniors with poor mobility. The next step in the research will be to develop a model that can be replicated across states and countries so everyone can appreciate the impact of this study’s results.