BALTIMORE – People may have different notions of aging gracefully, but they all may involve higher levels of physical activity, according to two studies presented today at the American College of Sports Medicine’s 57th Annual Meeting in Baltimore.
Scientists in Portugal and Japan found strong correlations between physical activity and perceived health, functional fitness and mood. Lack of activity tended to correlate with poor balance, depression and perceptions of poor health.
Maria Machado, M.Sc., led a study of 350 Portuguese seniors ages 65 to 96. Those who reported being more physically active had better perceived health. They also had greater functional fitness, giving them an improved ability to perform tasks of everyday living.
“This association was stronger in Portuguese women,, probably due to their daily living routines involving such tasks as housekeeping and shopping,” Machado said. “Living with others was also related to perceived health.”
Machado believes an aging population has significant public health implications for Portugal, with one of the world’s highest percentages of older citizens (18 percent age 65+, according to the Population Reference Bureau).
“Helping people live longer is one of humanity’s greatest triumphs,” she said. “It is also one of our greatest challenges because it will increase economic and social demands. The expected burden of disease and disability has become a critical concern. To increase the autonomy of the elderly thus becomes crucial to the survival of the system and poses a challenge to policymakers.”
Japan’s population is even older, with 23 percent at 65+. Researchers there found a relationship between functional fitness and depression. Yoshinori Kitabatake and colleagues assessed activities of daily living in 21 subjects ages 73-79 who had been diagnosed with minor depression by a psychiatrist. Those who stood and walked more had milder symptoms of depression, less fatigue and confusion, reported more vigor and were better able to take care of themselves.
“These results suggest a relationship between low levels of daily-living activities and depression,” said Kitabatake. “We propose that older people follow an exercise program to elevate mood and improve symptoms of depression.”
NOTE: Monaco has the world’s oldest population, according to the Population Reference Bureau, with 24 percent age 65+. Nauru and the United Arab Emirates rank lowest at three percent. The figure for the United States is 13 percent.
The conclusions outlined in this news release are those of the researchers only, and should not be construed as an official statement of the American College of Sports Medicine.