Activity Level Among the Elderly Needs a Jump Start

Physical activity and fitness levels reduced equally among elderly men and women

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) It's a stalemate: men and women are equally active as they age. Exercise is no competition between the two genders, but activity level goes down rather than up.

Fitness level and physical activity reductions wind down equally for both men and women as they age, a recently published study found.

These findings showed that the reductions in muscle strength and changes in body fat, endurance and agility caused the differences between young and older people, according to the researchers.

"Keep active at all ages."

Zoran Milanovic, from the Faculty of Sport and Physical Education at the University of Niš in Serbia, led a study investigating the differences between fitness and physical activity level among older individuals.

The study included 1,288 participants recruited from Southern and Eastern Serbia who were divided into one of two groups based on their age.

A little more than half the participants were in the young elderly group, consisting of 60- to 69-year-olds. The old elderly group consisted of 70- to 80-year-old individuals.

The participants were required to be physically independent and able to walk at least 20 feet without assistance. They were also required to be free of cognitive impairments, dementia and cardiovascular system disorders.

A little more than half the participants were women. Researchers collected information on participants' height and weight.

Each of the participants underwent a series of senior fitness tests between August and December 2011, including scratching their back, sitting in a chair, and rising up and down in a chair. Other tests included arm curls and a 2-minute step test.

Participants were also surveyed on their physical activity level covering work-related activities, transportation, leisure-time activity and housework or gardening.

The researchers found significant differences between the young elderly group and the old elderly group.

Aerobic endurance decreased by 1 percent each year for women and 10 percent for men. More muscles strength was lost in the lower limbs compared to the upper.

In particular, men lost 12 percent of muscle strength in their lower limbs and 8 percent in their upper from age 60-69 to 70-80 years. Women lost 14 percent and 10 percent of their strength respectively.

The decrease in strength might be caused by decreases in muscle mass and increasing age, as well as an increase in physical inactivity.

"The combination of muscle-strength loss, lower levels of physical activity, and increased body fat as a result of the aging process represents the potential risk for decreased mobility, a situation of relevance to the men and women involved in this study," the researchers wrote in their report.

Regular physical activity can slow down the rate at which muscles lose strength and aerobic endurance decreases, researchers said.

Jim Crowell, head trainer at Integrated Fitness and dailyRx Contributing Expert, says that based on his experience as a fitness trainer, strength and flexibility are two of the biggest characteristics that stand out between people of different age ranges.

With some simple and low impact training, people who don't have those characteristics "...can make wonderful progress and get themselves into the fit category," he said.

"I'm a big believer in working for progress and I've seen too many clients who have made amazing transitions to buy into 'no exercise is the best prescription'," Crowell said.

"When somebody works to lessen their limitations and strives for consistent and small changes they will end up with far greater long term health outlook."

The authors noted that participants' physical activity levels, body fat percentage and BMI weren't measured as precisely as possible, which might have affected their results.

The study, supported by the Ministry of Science of the Republic of Serbia, was published online May 21 in the journal Clinical Interventions in Aging. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 7, 2013
Last Updated:
August 7, 2013