Adults aged 65 years and older who follow physical activity guidelines recommended for their age group have a lower risk of all-cause mortality, a new study finds.

Investigators said they were able to fine-tune recommendations from the U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, second edition. The original recommendations advise seniors aged 65 years and older to engage in at least two days of muscle-strengthening activities per week, plus balance training. They also advised doing at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes per week at vigorous intensity, or an equivalent combination.

Beyond falls prevention

Most of the evidence for following those recommendations centers around falls prevention. In the current study, investigators examined how adhering to this advice would impact all-cause mortality. 

Data came from participants aged 65 years or older in the 1998 to 2018 National Health Interview Survey, using the 2019-linked NHIS and National Death Index mortality files. The investigators said they were able to build on earlier studies by using a larger sample size, zeroing in on age and physical activity categories, and adding a longer follow-up period. 

The findings offer additional insights for healthcare providers and their older patients, according to study lead Geoffrey Whitfield, PhD, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s division of nutrition, physical activity and obesity.

Study participants had a lower risk of all-cause mortality when they:

  • Engaged in two to six muscle-strengthening activities episodes per week when compared with fewer than two episodes. (This was not true for those who participated in seven or more bouts, they noted.)
  • Engaged in moderate to vigorous aerobic activities from 10 to more than 300 minutes per week when compared with less than 10 minutes per week.
  • Met both the strength and aerobic guidelines, versus meeting neither. 
  • Combined muscle-strengthening and moderate to vigorous aerobic activities.

The results indicated that the current U.S. physical activity guidelines are important for all older adults — including those aged 85 years or older, the authors concluded.

Full findings were published in JAMA Network Open.

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