Can Walking Help Prevent Frailness in Older Adults?

Most seniors and their caregivers know that as we age the risk of a fall increases. It is due to a variety of reasons. These reasons often include poor nutrition, lack of muscle tone, and medications that cause dizziness and problems with balance.

Strength training and exercises that work core muscles, such as yoga and Pilates, are known to help decrease fall risk. A study published in June in the Journal of the American Medical Association shined light on one other form of exercise that might help prevent frailty and falls. The Effect of Structured Physical Activity on Prevention of Major Mobility Disability in Older Adultsevaluated the link between walking and stretching and lower rates of falls and disability.

Researching Mobility and the Impact on Frailty in Older Adults

The two-year long research project involved 1,635 people between the ages of 70 and 89 years of age. Participants chosen were able to walk one-quarter of a mile on their own at the start of the study, but were still considered to be sedentary with low scores on a senior fitness scale.

Here’s how the study worked:

  • Each participant came to the research center once a month for education on healthy aging.
  • From the group at large, a random sub-group was also enrolled in a fitness program at the research center that met twice each week for stretching and supervised walks. Members were also given three hours of at-home exercises to complete each week.
  • All participants were tested once a year to be sure they could still complete the one-quarter mile walk independently.

At the conclusion of the research project participants who were also enrolled in the exercise subgroup were 18% less likely to have suffered any short-term physical disability and 28% less likely to have experienced a permanent disability during the trial study. While more research needs to be done to make a definitive conclusion, early findings seem to indicate that walking and other forms of exercise that promote mobility can help prevent older adults from experiencing a disabling injury or event.

If you or a senior loved one who has led a more sedentary lifestyle is considering beginning a walking program, be sure to do so with the support and guidance of your primary care physician.