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Original Investigation
September 12, 2009

Physical Activity, Function, and Longevity Among the Very Old

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Geriatrics and Rehabilitation, Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center, Mount Scopus (Drs Stessman, Hammerman-Rozenberg, Cohen, and Jacobs and Ms Ein-Mor), and Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School (Drs Stessman and Jacobs), Jerusalem, Israel.

Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(16):1476-1483. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2009.248

Background  Recommendations encouraging physical activity (PA) set no upper age limit, yet evidence supporting the benefits of PA among the very old is sparse. We examined the effects of continuing, increasing, or decreasing PA levels on survival, function, and health status among the very old.

Methods  Mortality data from ages 70 to 88 years and health, comorbidity, and functional status at ages 70, 78, and 85 years were assessed through the Jerusalem Longitudinal Cohort Study (1990-2008). A representative sample of 1861 people born in 1920 and 1921 enrolled in this prospective study, resulting in 17 109 person-years of follow-up for all-cause mortality.

Results  Among physically active vs sedentary participants, respectively, at age 70, the 8-year mortality was 15.2% vs 27.2% (P < .001); at age 78, the 8-year mortality was 26.1% vs 40.8% (P <.001); and at age 85 years, the 3-year mortality was 6.8% vs 24.4% (P < .001). In Cox proportional-hazards models adjusting for mortality risk factors, lower mortality was associated with PA level at ages 70 (hazard ratio, 0.61; 95% confidence interval, 0.38-0.96), 78 (0.69; 0.48-0.98), and 85 (0.42; 0.25-0.68). A significant survival benefit was associated with initiating PA between ages 70 and 78 years (P = .04) and ages 78 and 85 years (P < .001). Participation in higher levels of PA, compared with being sedentary, did not show a dose-dependent association with mortality. The PA level at age 78 was associated with remaining independent while performing activities of daily living at age 85 (odds ratio, 1.92; 95% confidence interval, 1.11-3.33).

Conclusions  Among the very old, not only continuing but also initiating PA was associated with better survival and function. This finding supports the encouragement of PA into advanced old age.