Light activity, like walking, shopping or gardening, can help avoid mobility loss or disability in older women, according to research from the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at UC San Diego.

Researchers observed 5,735 women age 63 and older, living in the United States and enrolled in the Objectively Measured Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Health study. Participants wore a research-grade accelerometer for seven days to measure their physical activity, showing a mean time of 4.8 hours of light physical activity per day.

The study revealed that women who spent the most time performing light-intensity physical activity had a 46 percent lower risk of mobility loss—consistent for white, Black and Latinx women. Although benefits were highest for women with a body mass index of less than 30, women with obesity also reduced their risk of mobility disability.

Notably, physical activity beyond five hours showed no additional benefits.

Study authors note that one in four women older than 65 years is unable to walk 2 to 3 blocks, making mobility disability a key factor in loss of independence. While existing research links the lack of moderate to vigorous-intensity activity with mobility loss, less is known about the effects of lighter activity on mobility.

Current physical activity guidelines in the United States also recommend 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week, which many older adults struggle to meet.

These findings suggest light-intensity activity may be the solution, helping to keep older adults—especially older women—active, mobile and healthy.

Read the full study in JAMA Network Open (2021; doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.0005).