It's never too late for older adults to turn exercise into a daily routine, especially given all the benefits they could get from it.

Indeed, a new study suggests that older adults who exercise regularly have lower chances of suffering from a disability, and if they do get injured, exercising will help them recover quickly.

In the new research, experts got a group of sedentary older adults to take up a new exercise routine. The main activity they performed was moderate walking, which has been linked to lower risks of developing diabetes, certain cancers, depression and heart disease.

The researchers wanted to see whether regular exercise could not only lessen chances of older people becoming disabled, but also help their recovery as well.

Moderate Walking

More than 1,600 sedentary adults aged 70 to 89 were recruited for the study. Half of them were randomly assigned to an exercise program, while the other half went to health education classes.

Those in the first group received balance and strength training, but moderate walking was the cornerstone. The participants worked toward a goal of 2.5 hours of walking each week.

For three and a half years, participants who exercised regularly spent 25 percent less time with a major movement disability compared to others, researchers said.

Active older adults were 13 percent less likely to suffer from physical impairment, and those who exercised had one-third higher chance to recover from the disability.

It's Not Too Late To Recover

Thomas Gill, the study's lead author and a geriatrics professor at Yale School of Medicine, said older adults tell them that maintaining their independence is important to them.

Gill said once a movement disability develops, it is not unusual for seniors to recover.

Meanwhile, the research did not distinguish the causes of people's disabilities, or whether they were from a stroke, a fall or worsening arthritis. It is also not clear how exercise accelerated people's recovery.

Still, Gill said it was possible that exercise built up the participants, so they were in better shape when illness or injury did strike.

Patricia Katz, a professor at University of California, San Francisco, said the exercise that seniors perform need not be heavy duty.

"You don't have to join a gym," said Katz.

Katz added that the bottom line of the new report is that the benefits of exercise, particularly to older adults, have been proven time and again.

Details of the new study are published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

Photo: Ron Merk | Flickr

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