Adults aged 85 years and older who logged an hour or more of walking each week had a 40% reduced risk of all-cause mortality compared with less active peers, according to data from more than 7,000 individuals.
“Aging is accompanied by reduced physical activity and increased sedentary behavior, and reduced physical activity is associated with decreased life expectancy,” Moo-Nyun Jin, MD, of Inje University Sanggye Paik Hospital, Seoul, South Korea, said in an interview.
Reduced physical activity was especially likely in the elderly during the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.
“Promoting walking may be a simple way to help older adults avoid inactivity and encourage an active lifestyle for all-cause and cardiovascular mortality risk reduction,” Jin said.
Although walking is generally an easy form of exercise for the older adult population, the specific benefit of walking on reducing mortality has not been well studied, according to Jin and colleagues.
For adults of any age, current guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes per week of moderate activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity, but the amount of physical activity tends to decline with age, and activity recommendations are more difficult to meet, the authors wrote in a press release accompanying their study.
In the study, to be presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress on Aug. 28 (Abstract 85643), the researchers reviewed data from 7,047 adults aged 85 years and older who participated in the Korean National Health Screening Program. The average age of the study population was 87 years, and 68% were women. Participants completed questionnaires about the amount of time spent in leisure time activities each week, including walking at a slow pace, moderate activity (such as cycling or brisk walking), and vigorous activity (such as running).
Those who walked at a slow pace for at least 1 hour per week had a 40% reduced risk of all-cause mortality and a 39% reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality, compared with inactive participants.
The proportions of participants who reported walking, moderate activity, and vigorous intensity physical activity were 42.5%, 14.7%, and 11.0%, respectively. Roughly one-third (33%) of those who reported slow walking each week also reported moderate or vigorous physical activity.
However, walking for 1 hour per week significantly reduced the risk for all-cause mortality and cardiovascular mortality among individuals who reported walking only, without other moderate or vigorous physical activity (hazard ratio, 0.50 and 0.46, respectively).
“Walking was linked with a lower likelihood of dying in older adults, regardless of whether or not they did any moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity,” Jin told this news organization. “Our study indicates that walking even just 1 hour every week is advantageous to those aged 85 years and older compared to being inactive.”
The hour of walking need not be in long bouts, 10 minutes each day will do, Jin added.
The participants were divided into five groups based on reported amount of weekly walking. More than half (57.5%) reported no slow walking, 8.5% walked less than 1 hour per week, 12.0% walked 1-2 hours, 8.7% walked 2-3 hours, and 13.3% walked more than 3 hours.
Although the study was limited by the reliance on self-reports, the results were strengthened by the large sample size and support the value of easy walking for adults aged 85 years and older compared to being inactive.
“Walking may present an opportunity for promoting physical activity among the elderly population, offering a simple way to avoid inactivity and increase physical activity,” said Jin. However, more research is needed to evaluate the association between mortality and walking by objective measurement of walking levels, using a device such as a smart watch, he noted.
Results Are Preliminary
“This is an observational study, not an experiment, so it means causality cannot be presumed,” said Maria Fiatarone Singh, MD, a geriatrician with a focus on exercise physiology at the University of Sydney, in an interview. “In other words, it is possible that diseases resulting in mortality prevented people from walking rather than the other way around,” she noted. The only published experimental study on exercise and mortality in older adults was conducted by Fiatarone Singh and colleagues in Norway. In that study, published in the British Medical Journal in 2020, high-intensity training programs were associated with reduced all-cause mortality compared with inactive controls and individuals who engaged in moderate intensity exercise.
The current study “would have needed to control for many factors related to mortality, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, malnutrition, and dementia to see what residual benefit might be related to walking,” Fiatarone Singh said.
“Although walking seems easy and safe, in fact people who are frail, sarcopenic, osteoporotic, or have fallen are recommended to do resistance and balance training rather than walking, and add walking later when they are able to do it safely,” she emphasized.
The study received no outside funding. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose. Fiatarone Singh had no financial conflicts to disclose.
This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.