Just 7 minutes of exercise a day can stave off mobility disability in elderly

Participants in the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders, or LIFE, study exercise several years ago at the University of Florida as part of the LIFE study. The study examined how physical activity affects the mobility of adults aged 70-89.Seven short minutes. Tick tock.

That’s a pot of coffee brewing to completion. It’s a melodic tune or two floating from a car radio. Seven minutes are a handful of commercials on television.

Seven minutes also might be a lifeline in your golden years.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Florida and around the nation shows that just under seven minutes of moderate walking or other exercise each day — 48 minutes a week — can improve physical functioning in the elderly and stave off major mobility disability.

“That’s very, very little,” said Marco Pahor, M.D., director of the UF Institute on Aging and the study’s co-author. “People may say, ‘Well, doing this little can’t mean much.’ But it does. It means a great deal.”

Feel free to juggle those 48 minutes in any arrangement. How about a little less than 10 minutes of exercise Monday through Friday, Pahor suggested, if you want the weekend off to rest?

That journey from nothing to a few minutes of moderate exercise daily, Pahor said, actually bridges a chasm.

“There is a huge difference,” he said, “between doing nothing and doing just a little.”

 Seven minutes daily — for many people, it’s a walk around the block.

 The study, published in the online journal PLOS One, is an offshoot of the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders, or LIFE, trial. Released in 2014, it enrolled 1,635 sedentary participants, ages 70 to 89, who all had functional limitations.

The participants were split into two groups. One received health education and performed stretching exercises. The second group took part in a structured, moderate intensity program of resistance and flexibility exercise, in addition to 150 minutes of walking per week. Physical activity that raises the heartbeat is considered moderate.

Everyone in the study wore a device to measure their physical activity. And the researchers then monitored them for an average of about two-and-a-half years.

This original study found the moderate physical activity group maintained their ability to walk at a rate 18 percent higher than older adults who did not exercise. It also led to a 28 percent reduction in people permanently losing the ability to walk easily.

The new follow-up study, using data from the original, then examined the question: What is the minimum amount of exercise where participants see a significant benefit?

Seven minutes daily — the length of your morning shower.

Researchers, of course, note that there is no need to stop at seven minutes. “The more you do,” Pahor said, “the more you benefit.”

Researchers aren’t surprised that walking is especially critical in the calculus of our health.

Walking is a fundamental part of being human. We walk everywhere. To the mailbox. Down a lazy forest trail. Up mountains. Down stairs. For the elderly, walking can be the difference between being homebound or in a nursing home and living an independent life.

“Mobility predicts all kinds of health-related outcomes, from mortality to morbidity, cardiovascular disease, cognitive functional decline, hospitalization and institutionalization,” Pahor said.

And he said it’s important to remember something for those who think they’ve been couch potatoes too long and that starting a regimen of physical activity would be useless.

“It’s never too late,” Pahor said. “Sedentary people are actually the ones who would achieve most of the benefit from those seven minutes.”

Study co-authors include Todd M. Manini, Ph.D, an associate professor in the UF College of Medicine’s department of aging and geriatric research and a member of the UF Institute on Aging. Also participating in the study were Jacksonville Brooks Rehabilitation, Northwestern University, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, the University of Pittsburgh, Stanford University, Tufts University, Wake Forest School of Medicine and Yale University.

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Bill Levesque's picture

Bill Levesque

Science Writer

Bill Levesque joined the UF Health staff in May 2017 as a science writer covering the Institute on Aging and research of faculty physicians in the College of Medicine. He...Read More