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Posted: Monday, August 10, 2015

Good news from new research: Light exercise benefits older people

You know you have to exercise to keep fit and healthy. But does that mean you have to do strenuous workouts? A new study from Oregon State University indicates that walking, dancing and household chores is nearly as effective as more vigorous exercise—if you do it long enough.

“You get a nice array of health benefits by doing five hours of light physical activity per week,” said Dr. Brad Cardinal, a professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences and co-author of the study.

Currently, the standard recommendation on exercise is that everyone engage in two-and-a-half hours of moderate exercise, such as jogging, each week. But the Oregon State researchers found that engaging in light activity for 300 minutes per week provides significant health benefits for folks over 65, Cardinal said. That’s good news for people who don’t want to or can’t run or jump around like they used to do.

The researchers found that older people who did light exercise for 300 minutes or more were 18 percent healthier overall than their peers who didn’t do that much. The light exercisers had smaller waist measurements and lower body mass index (BMI), C-reactive protein (a measure of inflammation in the body that can indicate heart disease) and insulin resistance. They also were less likely to have chronic diseases.

Besides a formal program of light exercise such as walking or biking, there are lots of ways to work more light activity into your day. When you’re talking on the phone, try getting up and walking as you talk. If you’re working or performing a seated activity, set a timer to remind you to get up and move around your home or take a short stroll one every hour or so. Hop on your exercise bike and pedal while you’re watching TV. When you can, park a few blocks away from your destination.

To reach their conclusions, the scientists pulled data from the 2003-06 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a program that examines a nationally representative sample of about 5,000 people each year. The survey asks questions about diet and health and also collects demographic and socioeconomic information. The information, collected by the National Center for Health Statistics, is the basis for national health standards and is valuable to researchers such as those at Oregon State.

Besides completing questionnaires, the subjects in the Oregon State study wore an accelerometer, a device that measures movement, for at least four days and contributed blood samples that were used to assess biological markers.

The study was published in the May/June issue of The American Journal of Health Promotion.

Of course, you’ll want to check with your doctor before changing your exercise or starting a new routine. He or she is your best counsel on the type and duration of exercise that is appropriate for you.

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