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01/22/2004 - Articles

Consistent Exercise Keeps Older Women "Functioning" Well

By: Tufts University

Consistent Exercise Keeps Older Women "Functioning" Well

Source: Tufts University
January 22, 2004

Healthful aging isn't just about living a long time. It's also about living well. Researchers have found that physical activity influences how well people are able continue with their usual activities as they age. The term that describes this ability to perform regular activities, like bathing, dressing oneself, doing housework, climbing stairs, shopping, and using public transportation is called "functional status." According to a new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, women who participated most consistently in a walking program had better functional status than those who were inactive.

Studying "functional status"

Researchers studied 229 women (average age 74) who participated in a walking study from 1982 to 1985 and were subsequently followed until December 1999. The study participants filled out questionnaires in 1985, 1995, and 1999, which detailed their levels and frequency of physical activity. In 1999, the researchers measured the subjects' "functional status" using a variety of scientific techniques.

Regular exercisers fared better

After adjusting for other factors that could affect functional status, such as age, presence of chronic diseases, and limitations on activity, the researchers found that women who were always active (from 1985 to 1999) had the best functional status, whereas those who were always inactive had the worst functional status. In addition, 59% of women who were always inactive had difficulties with daily activities, compared with only 38% of women who were always active.

Exercise now, benefit later

These results do not specify the exact mechanisms by which regular, long-term physical activity apparently preserves functional status later in life. It could be that exercise positively affects both physical and mental functioning, and it's the combination of the two that affects functional status. The answer to that question requires further research.

In the meantime, these results add to existing evidence that the health benefits of exercise are vast and varied. And most experts believe it's never too late to get started. Just be sure to get your doctor's okay before embarking on any new exercise regimen.


  • Physical activity and functional status in community-dwelling older women. JS. Brach, S. Fitzgerald, AB. Newman,  et al., Arch Intern Med, 2003, vol. 163, pp. 2565--2571

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To quickly access additional accurate information on this and other nutrition-related topics, visit Tufts University's Nutrition Navigator

Created on: 01/19/2004
Reviewed on: 01/22/2004

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)
Anonymous wrote 1 day 17 hours ago

Every woman over the age of 50 should read this article. I just turned 59 years old a few weeks ago, and I have slowed down too much for my own good. I wish I could go back and start all over again, but I've been told it's never too late. I now know if I don't get my body in shape I won't be able to take care of myself ten years from now.

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