The study enrolled more than 1,600 adults between the ages of 70 and 89 considered to be at high risk for disability because they were sedentary and had various chronic health problems, such as heart disease or diabetes. More than 2 in 5 were 80 or older. To enroll, they had to be able to walk a quarter of a mile in 15 minutes — a long time, and some needed every minute.
“We were targeting folks who potentially had the most to gain,” said Dr. Thomas Gill, a Yale University geriatrician who led the work. The study compared seniors assigned to a walking program, plus a strength and balance exercise, with a control group givenhealth education. Over 3½ years, the walking program reduced the amount of time seniors spent suffering from a major mobility problem by 25percent, the researchers reported in Annals of Internal Medicine. The walkers were less likely to experience a mobility- robbing condition in the first place, morelikely to recover if they did and less likely to suffer another one, Gill said. While the walking didn’t replace any necessary physical therapy, too often seniors “leave the hospital more debilitated than when they entered,” Gill said. The goal was to get them walking again as soon as possible.