Researchers find just 7 minutes of exercise a day can prevent loss of mobility in the elderly

Seven minutes may not seem like much, yet it can mean a world of difference to the elderly. According to a study led by University of Florida researchers, seven minutes of exercise a day – or 48 minutes of exercise a week – can enhance the physical function of senior citizens. More than that, a mere seven minutes of exercise daily can even prevent major mobility disabilities.

“That journey from nothing to a few minutes of moderate exercise daily actually bridges a chasm. There is a huge difference between doing nothing and doing just a little,” stated Dr. Marco Pahor, co-author on the study and director of the UF Institute on Aging.

For their study, Pahor and his colleagues enrolled 1,635 participants, ages 70 to 89, all of whom had a form of functional limitation. The participants were divided into two groups and were given different sets of exercises. The first group underwent health education sessions and did stretching exercises; the second group, meanwhile, were given a moderate-intensity program that included flexibility and resistance exercises, as well as 150 minutes of walking every week. To help the researchers monitor the participants’ physical activity, each one was outfitted with a measuring device. In addition, the researchers kept track of the participants for an average of two-and-a-half years.

On the study’s conclusion, the moderate-activity group showed the most promising results. The participants from this group retained their ability to walk at a rate higher (18 percent) than sedentary older adults, or those who didn’t get any kind of exercise. The researchers further noted that moderate-intensity exercise could greatly reduce the risk of permanently losing the ability to walk with ease.

Using data from this study, the researchers conducted another one. Their goal for the second study was to answer the question: How much exercise should a person do before they start noticing improvements?

The answer turned out to be seven minutes. That exercise need not be incredibly intense either. Walking counts as exercise, and for the elderly, it can ensure an independent life away from a nursing home. “Mobility predicts all kinds of health-related outcomes, from mortality to morbidity, cardiovascular disease, cognitive functional decline, hospitalization and institutionalization,” explained Pahor. (Related: Walking can improve memory and reverse muscle loss.)

He added that senior citizens who’ve settled into a couch potato lifestyle shouldn’t discouraged from getting up and moving. As Pahor stated: “It’s never too late. Sedentary people are actually the ones who would achieve most of the benefit from those seven minutes.”

Of course, those who want to reap the most benefits from exercise don’t have to stop at seven minutes. Older adults who have no mobility-limiting health complications and are in a good state of health overall are recommended at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week. Walking and cycling both fall under the definition of moderate aerobic activity. Included in this regimen is at least two days’ worth of strength exercises that focus on all the major muscles, namely the legs, hip, abdomen, shoulders and arms.

Those who want to kick it up a notch can do so with 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly, such as games of singles tennis or running. Alternatively, mixing aerobic and moderate activity can be equally effective.

In Pahor’s own words: “The more you do, the more you benefit.”

But for those senior citizens who may not be in the best health, there will always be walking — seven minutes, to be precise. And those seven minutes can and will do a world of good.

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