Seniors who perform at least 25 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity every day need fewer medications and are less likely to require an emergency hospital admission, found a study conducted by several United Kingdom universities. The findings, published in PLOS ONE, analyzed data of 213 people in the 70- to 80-year-old range (average age 78).
On the other hand, those seniors who did less than 25 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each day—such as walking quickly, bicycling or jogging—had 50 percent more medications over the following four to five years than those who were more active. These findings reinforce the need for exercise programs that engage and encourage older adults to stay active, researchers say.
Physical activity leads to a higher metabolism and better circulation, reducing the risk of conditions and diseases common in this age group, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and strokes, they point out.
Researchers measured physical activity using accelerometers—devices that monitor movement throughout the day—with elements of physical function including balance, leg strength and walking gait. Then they examined medical records to investigate health service usage over the next four years. The records captured primary care visits, referrals for secondary services, unplanned admissions to the hospital and the number of prescriptions needed.
Exercise for those in their 70s and 80s should target muscle strength, balance, coordination and aerobic fitness to maintain mobility and prevent falls and further disease, the investigaters say.
"We know that leading a physically active life has health benefits for all ages, but this study suggests there may also be economic benefits by reducing reliance on medication and preventing costly emergency hospital admissions. Our findings further support the need for greater availability of community-based programs to increase physical activity and prevent loss of lower limb function," said Bethany Simmonds, MD, coauthor of the study, in a press release.