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Aging: Physical activity can turn back the clock

Physical activity

Everyone ages, but with any dose of physical activity, we can mitigate declines in health and function with passing years

Everything that worsens with age gets better with exercise,” Professor Ralph Paffenbarger, a pioneer in the field of physical activity epidemiology, used to remark to his students. Now a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, says there are seven decades of data showing physical activity to be crucial for health and well-being, buttressing Paffenbarger’s statement.

“These findings, primarily from studies using self-reported physical activity, underpin guidelines calling for 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity (eg, brisk walking), 75 to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity physical activity (eg, jogging), or equivalent combination of the 2, for substantial health benefits, as well as muscle-strengthening exercises 2 days a week (sic),” the JAMA says.

It says in the past decade, the proliferation of wearable devices used in large studies and fitness trackers sold on consumer markets has fundamentally changed the field by making available far more detailed and precise data.

In its latest article, ‘Fitness Trackers to Guide Advice on Activity Prescription” the JAMA says consumer wearable devices display many health metrics, including  those pertaining to physical activity

The authors of the article, I-Min Lee,  Sarah K. Keadle, Charles E. Matthews also record novel metrics that cannot be assessed or are not well assessed by self-report, and thus are not part of current physical activity guidelines, such as limiting sedentary time, increasing time in light-intensity physical activity, engaging in 1- to 2-minute “bursts” of vigorous activity in daily life or tracking a daily step goal. 

The authors argue that to keep up with technology, future guidelines should incorporate device-measured physical activity metrics, including step counts. 

“Encouragingly, current device studies support that no physical activity is too little to be healthful. Based on the totality of evidence, clinicians should first encourage any amount and intensity of physical activity for a patient just starting. Next, for those who already do some physical activity and want to reach a target dose, 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous physical activity should be recommended,” the study explains.

“For those preferring to monitor steps, a goal of about 7000 steps a day is reasonable for those aged 60 years or older, and about 9000 steps a day if younger. Critically, clinicians themselves should hew to this same advice not only to set an example but also to personally experience and understand potential barriers that can exist.”

Everyone ages, but with any dose of physical activity, we can mitigate declines in health and function with passing years.

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