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Older Adults Benefit From Short Bouts of Exercise

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that adults aged 65 and older should aim to achieve at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week. This is in addition to at least 2 or more days of muscle-strengthening exercise per week. However, many individuals in this age group don’t fulfill the recommendations. The good news is that even small amounts of physical activity can be beneficial.

A study presented at the EuroPRevent 2016 meeting—a congress in preventive cardiology, hosted by the European Association for Cardiovascular Prevention & Rehabilitation—suggested that just 15 minutes of daily exercise can yield a positive response. The researchers, from the University Hospital of Saint-Etienne in Saint-Etienne, France, based their conclusion on data from two studies, which featured more than 123,000 subjects. The Saint-Etienne researchers looked at weekly physical activity records and death rates, and found that as activity levels increased, death rates declined. Subjects classified as highly active—achieving at least 1,000 metabolic equivalent of task (MET) minutes per week—had a 35% lower risk of death during the study. However, subjects at the lower end of the activity spectrum—who exercised for just 15 minutes per day—still saw their risk decrease by 22%.

“These two studies show that the more physical activity older adults do, the greater the health benefit,” explained lead researcher David Hupin, MD, MSc. “The biggest jump in benefit was achieved at the low level of exercise, with the medium and high levels bringing smaller increments of benefit.”

Hupin added that this research might be valuable in motivating this population to exercise more each week, if only in small amounts.

“We think that older adults should progressively increase physical activity in their daily lives rather than dramatically changing their habits to meet recommendations,” he says. “Fifteen minutes a day could be a reasonable target for older adults. Small increases in physical activity may enable some older adults to incorporate more moderate activity and get closer to the recommended 150 minutes per week.”

The study appeared in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (2015; 49 [19], 1262–67).

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