Exercise tests can be used to predict a person’s risk of heart disease and mortality. But for certain older adults, traditional tests may be too rigorous. A new study shows that a simple extended walking test can be an effective method for older adults.
The researchers, supported by a grant from NIH, enrolled 3,075 people between 70 and 79 years old living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Memphis, Tennessee. Some people were excluded from the test for medical safety. Those who participated were asked to walk a quarter of a mile in a hallway (10 laps). They were told, “Walk as quickly as you can, without running, at a pace you can maintain.” They had a 2-minute warm-up, and were given encouragement at each lap. Of the 2,680 eligible for the test, 86% completed the full distance while 13% couldn’t.
The researchers found that people who were excluded from the walking test or couldn’t complete it had higher rates of mortality, heart disease and mobility limitations or disabilities about 5 years later. Among those able to complete the test, each minute longer it took them to finish was associated with a 29% higher rate of mortality, a 20% higher rate of heart disease and a 52% higher rate of mobility problems.
The study shows that, in apparently well-functioning older adults, a relatively simple test can expose a wide range of function and health risk. It highlights how important fitness is for older adults. Staying physically active into your 70s raises your chance of living a longer, healthier life into your 80s.
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