Oregon: An easy walk, slow dancing, leisurely sports such as table tennis, household chores and other light-intensity exercise may be nearly as effective as moderate or vigorous exercise for older adults – if they get enough of that type of activity. New research indicates that 300 minutes a week of light exercise provides some significant health benefits for people over age 65, said Brad Cardinal, a professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University.
“You get a nice array of health benefits by doing five hours of light
physical activity per week,” said Cardinal, who is a national expert on
the benefits of physical activity and a co-author of the study. “There
appears to be some real value in devoting at least three percent of the
168 hours available in a week to these light forms of physical
Current medical recommendations suggest that all adults engage in 150
minutes of moderate exercise each week. The researchers wanted to know
whether exercise of less intensity, done more often, would produce
similar health benefits.
Light exercise is more appealing to people over 65, and such
activities do not generally require the approval of a physician,
Cardinal said. Older adults, in particular, may be more reluctant to
participate in moderate to vigorous exercise because of health concerns,
including fear of injury.
The researchers examined data from the 2003-06 National Health and
Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES, which is conducted by the
National Center for Health Statistics and is a nationally representative
sample of the U.S. population. The 2003-06 results are the only
available cycles that use objectively measured physical activity data.
They found that older adults who participated in light intensity
exercise activities for 300 minutes or more were 18 percent healthier,
overall, than peers who did not log that much light activity. They had
lower body mass index (BMI), smaller waist circumference, better insulin
rates and were less likely to have chronic diseases, Cardinal said.
“These findings highlight that, in addition to promoting
moderate-intensity physical activity to older adults, we should not
neglect the importance of engaging in lower-intensity, movement-based
behaviors when the opportunity arises,” said lead author Paul Loprinzi,
who earned his Ph.D. at Oregon State and now is an assistant professor
of exercise science and health promotion at the University of
“For example, instead of talking on the phone in a seated position,
walking while talking will help increase our overall physical activity
The study was published in the current issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion. Co-author Hyo Lee also earned his doctorate at OSU and now works at Sangmyung University in Seoul, South Korea.
The findings are part of a growing body of evidence that indicate
light activity can lead to improved health, but more study is needed to
better understand how the two are connected, Cardinal said. It may also
be time to rethink current exercise guidelines, with new recommendations
geared specifically to adults over age 65 that emphasize the benefits
and ease of participation in light activity, he said.
“This research suggests that doing something is dramatically better
than doing nothing,” he said. “For the average, every day person, that
is a much more palatable message than the current guidelines that
emphasize moderate to vigorous exercise.”