Campus News

Study finds that walking helps elderly lessen disability risk

Older adults can decrease their risk of disability and increase their likelihood of maintaining independence by 41 percent by participating in a walking exercise program, according to a UGA study.

The study, which appears in the spring issue of the Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy, also found that walking program participants increased their peak aerobic capacity by 19 percent when compared to a control group and increased their physical function by 25 percent.

“In the past decade, researchers have focused on the benefits of strength training in maintaining independence, but until now we didn’t have good evidence using an objective performance measure that a walking program would improve physical functioning,” said study co-author M. Elaine Cress, professor of kinesiology in the Institute of Gerontology. “Our study found that walking offers tremendous health benefits that can help older adults stay independent.”

Trudy Moore-Harrison, the lead author of the study and a former UGA doctoral student, supervised a walking group that met three times a week for four months. Initially, the group would walk for 10 minutes continually. As the weeks progressed, they increased their walking time to 40 continuous minutes. The researchers said that people could lead similar groups across the nation.

“People really enjoyed the program. It gave them an opportunity to make new friends and get to know their neighbors,” said Moore-Harrison. “We know that walking is good for you, but too many people still aren’t doing it. This study shows that just walking on a regular basis can make a huge impact on quality of life.”

Getting people to stick with exercise programs can be difficult, but the researchers found that every member of the group stayed with the program for its four-month duration.