Older Obese Adults Can Benefit From Moderate Exercise

Eat less; move more; live longer. It’s never too late to start exercising according to researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center

Moderate-intensity exercise can help even extremely obese older adults improve their ability to perform common daily activities and remain independent.


Even this fat cat can benefit …

Findings from the National Institutes of Health-funded study are published in the July issue of the journal Obesity.

In the United States, obesity affects nearly 13 million adults age 65 and older. Both overall obesity and abdominal obesity are strongly associated with the development of major mobility disability (MMD), the inability to walk a quarter of a mile, according to the study’s lead author, Stephen Kritchevsky, Ph.D., director of the Sticht Center for Healthy Aging and Alzheimer’s Prevention at Wake Forest Baptist.

Previous data on older populations had suggested that obesity may lessen the beneficial effects of physical activity on mobility. However, this research, which analyzed data from the multicenter Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) study, showed that a structured physical activity program reduced the risk of MMD even in older adults with extreme obesity.

“The inability to walk a quarter of a mile is a proxy for common daily activities, such as the inability to walk a block around the neighborhood or to walk several street blocks to go to a store,” Kritchevsky said. “Having a major mobility disorder can really affect the quality of life and independence for older people, but we showed that moderate exercise was a safe and effective way to reduce that risk even in severely obese people.”

The LIFE study was a large clinical trial that enrolled 1,635 sedentary men and women age 70 to 89. The participants were randomized to a moderate intensity physical activity program or a health education program to test if the physical activity program would reduce the rate of MMD compared to the education program. Major mobility disability was defined as the inability to walk 400 meters (about a quarter of a mile) without sitting and without help from another person or a walker, Kritchevsky said.

Participants were divided into four groups according to body mass index (BMI) – a measure of body fat based on height and weight – and waist circumference: non-obese with BMI less than 30; non-obese with high waist circumference of more than 40 inches for men and 34 inches for women; class 1 obese with BMI between 30 and 35; and class 2 obese with BMI of 35 or higher.

The physical activity program focused on walking, strength, balance and flexibility training. The goal for participants was to be able to walk at moderate intensity for 30 minutes and perform 10 minutes of lower-extremity strength training with ankle weights and 10 minutes of balance training in a single session. Participants attended two center-based training sessions per week and performed at-home activities three to four times per week during the two-year study.

The health education program involved in-person group workshops focused on aging-relevant topics such as nutrition, safety and legal/financial issues. Sessions included lectures and interactive discussions and five to 10 minutes of upper body stretching exercises.

While there was no significant difference between obesity category and intervention effect, those in the class 2 obesity group showed the greatest benefit from the physical activity program, reducing their risk of MDD by 31 percent, Kritchevsky said.

The LIFE study was the first to demonstrate that moderate intensity physical activity can significantly reduce the risk of MMD in sedentary older adults.



Filed under aging, Exercise, exercise and brain health, exercise benefits, obesity, successful aging

5 responses to “Older Obese Adults Can Benefit From Moderate Exercise

  1. Samantha

    I knew someone who had gotten diabetes because she was overweight. She started to do some Wii-fit workouts each day, because her doctor kept pressuring her to do so. I was there once when she was “working out” and saw her step on and off a fitness bench which was linked tot the Wii-fit programme. I think she did it for about five minutes; according to the TV screen she had burned 73 calories, and then she decided to quit and that she had deserved an ice cream for her hard work.

    Willpower is so important, as well as information. It’s a good thing you’re spreading the latter! Now let’s hope more and more people will find the former.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Samantha. I wish your friend luck. I think she will need it. Don’t know much about that Wii-fit, but 73 calories in five minutes sounds high to me. At 155 pounds, I burn just under 100 calories on a mile walk.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Samantha

        She was a friend’s mother, but I’m not friends with her daughter any more. Maybe it was more than 5 minutes, then. What I recall most was being baffled at how low impact her workout had been and at how quick she was to eat the lost calories back on. I hope she’s doing better now, for her own sake, but I have my doubts. But to each their own, I guess.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Tony. I guess after viewing the cat doing the crunches (which is hilarious by the way), I read your title as Older Obese Adult CATS Benefit from Moderate Exercise. It gave me a little chuckle when I was reading the article. Totally true, for people AND cats!

    Liked by 1 person

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