Moderate exercise can help obese adults remain independent

By Greg Hamilton • Published: August 17th, 2017
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

For older adults who are severely overweight, just the thought of exercise can seem like a bridge too far. But a study has found even a modest amount of exercise can improve their ability to perform common daily tasks and remain independent.

The study by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center researchers shows moderate-intensity exercise can cut the risk of major mobility disability, which is the inability to walk a quarter mile — about the same distance for many people as walking around the block or going to a store.

The researchers studied more than sixteen-hundred sedentary men and women ages 70 to 89 who were placed either in a physical activity program or a health education program. The physical activity folks focused on walking, strength, balance and flexibility training. Their goal was to walk for 30 minutes and perform 10 minutes of strength training with ankle weights and 10 minutes of balance training in a single session. The health education program involved workshops on nutrition, safety and other issues. These sessions also included five to 10 minutes of upper-body stretching.

Those who were the most obese showed the greatest benefit from the physical activity, reducing their risk of having a major mobility disorder by 31 percent. The findings were published in the journal Obesity.

Being unable to perform even moderate physical activities can affect quality of life and independence in older adults. But the findings show a structured exercise plan can be a safe and effective way to reduce the risk, even in severely obese people.

For overweight adults who think, “what’s the use?” the lesson is clear: It’s never too late to take that first step back to better health.