There's truth behind the phrase 'move it or lose it'

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects

PITTSBURGH, Pa. - Josephine Scott moves like a woman 20 years her junior. At age 78, she lives on her own and loves it.

"I do all my own housekeeping, cooking, cleaning," she said.

Scott was part of a two and a half year national trial evaluating fitness in the elderly. The LIFE study or Lifestyle Interventions For the Elderly, recruited 1,600 sedentary seniors.

"We found when we started the program that some people were only able to be active for maybe five minutes at a time," said Anne Newman, MD, MPH, of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

Half the group was assigned to build endurance; the target was 150 minutes of walking a week. The other half focused on education.

Researchers found moderate activity helped aging adults maintain their ability to walk at a rate that was 20% higher than those who didn't exercise. Consistent exercise also resulted in a 28% reduction in people losing their mobility.

"It's very easy to lose it and it's hard to get it back," said Newman

Newman tells seniors to start at five minutes of walking.  Add two minutes a week, until 20 minutes feels comfortable.  Even short laps around the living room will work for starters.

91 year old Frances Butts walks five blocks to her local library almost every day, she works hard to keep her mobility.

"I'm thinking that the person robs themselves of the opportunity to enjoy life if they do not walk," she said.

Newman says structured exercise programs for seniors may be the most beneficial. She says even if a senior suffers an illness or injury, it's essential to begin moderate exercise again when they are physically able to do so.

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