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world and was as strong as 24-38 percent in Western Europe and North America (Yusuf et al., 2004). Globally, the World Health Organization recently estimated that inactivity is responsible for around 5.5 percent of deaths (World Health Organization, 2009). Many types of physical activity appear to be protective, including leisure-time physical activity, walking, and active commuting (Hamer and Chida, 2008; Landi et al., 2008; Manson et al., 2002). Physical activity is also relevant to the secondary prevention of physical disease and is a major component of most programs of cardiac or respiratory rehabilitation.

Physical inactivity contributes to many specific health and function problems in old age. Table 7-1 outlines some of the positive health benefits of regular physical activity for older adults. For example, physical activity is a key component of many programs to reduce risk of falls through improving strength, balance, and confidence. Falls are an important cause of morbidity in older populations; more than a third of people age 65 and over fall every year, and many falls result in fractures, soft tissue injury, or head injury (Tinetti, 2003). A recent longitudinal population study in Australia showed that physical activity was associated with a substantially reduced risk of falls over a 3-5 year period, independent of age, education,

TABLE 7-1 Health Benefits of Regular Physical Activity for Older Adults

How Physical Activity Can Improve Physical Functioning

How Physical Activity Can Improve Mental Functioning

How Physical Activity Can Be Beneficial at Older Ages in General

  • Improves cardiorespiratory fitness

  • Improves glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity

  • Reduces blood pressure

  • Improves lipid profiles

  • Reduces levels of inflammatory markers

  • Induces growth factors

  • Improves balance

  • Improves strength, flexibility and joint mobility (range of motion)

  • Reduces decline in bone density

  • Helps maintain a healthy weight

  • Enhances emotional well-being

  • Provides relaxation and helps lower stress levels

  • Helps maintain cognitive function and alertness

  • Helps reduce depression

  • Enhances perceptions of coping ability

  • Improves sleep

  • Helps maintain independence

  • Improves quality of life

  • Increases energy

  • Helps maintain social connectedness

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