Physical Activity Increases Gains in and Prevents Loss of Physical Function: Results From the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders Pilot Study

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Abstract

Background.

Physical activity (PA) appears to have a positive effect on physical function, however, studies have not examined multiple indices of physical function jointly nor have they conceptualized physical functioning as a state rather than a trait.

Methods.

About 424 men and women aged 70–89 were randomly assigned to complete a PA or a successful aging (SA) education program. Balance, gait speed, chair stand performance, grip strength, and time to complete the 400-m walk were assessed at baseline and at 6 and 12 months. Using hidden Markov model, empiric states of physical functioning were derived based on these performance measures of balance, strength, and mobility. Rates of gain and loss in physical function were compared between PA and SA.

Results.

Eight states of disability were identified and condensed into four clinically relevant states. State 1 represented mild disability with physical functioning, states 2 and 3 were considered intermediate states of disability, and state 4 severe disability. About 30.1% of all participants changed states at 6 months, 24.1% at 12 months, and 11.0% at both time points. The PA group was more likely to regain or sustain functioning and less likely to lose functioning when compared with SA. For example, PA participants were 20% more likely than the SA participants to remain in state 1.

Conclusion.

PA appears to have a favorable effect on the dynamics of physical functioning in older adults.

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