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Light-Intensity Activities Linked to Fewer Disabilities: Study

A new Northwestern Medicine study indicates that light daily activity, such as pushing a shopping cart or vacuuming, can assist individuals who have or are at risk for knee arthritis in avoiding developing disabilities as they age. A news release from Northwestern University states that while the correlation between more time spent in moderate or vigorous activities and the decreased likelihood to develop disability is known, the current study is the first to suggest spending more time in light activities can also help prevent disability.

Dorothy Dunlop, PhD, lead author, professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, designates the findings as encouraging for adults who may not be able to increase physical activity intensity as a result of health limitations.

“Even among those who did almost no moderate activity, the more light activity they did, the less likely they were to develop disability,” Dunlop says.

During the study, the scientists reportedly pinpointed nearly 1,700 adults, aged 45 to 79 years old, from the Osteoarthritis Initiative study who were free of disability yet were at elevated risk of developing it because they had knee osteoarthritis or other risk factors for knee osteoarthritis, such as obesity.

According to the release, in order to track the amount and intensity of physical activity these at-risk individuals engaged in daily, scientists asked them to wear an accelerometer during waking hours for about 1 week.

A total of 2 years following the results from the accelerometer, participants were then surveyed and asked about the development of disabilities, the release notes. While the results suggest more time spent in moderate or vigorous activity was associated with lower reports of disabilities, the researchers also reported that greater time spent in light-intensity activities also was linked to fewer disabilities, even after accounting for time spent in moderate activities.

The study suggests individuals who spent more than 4 hours a day engaging in light physical activity exhibited a more than 30% reduction in the risk for developing disability, compared to individuals who spent only 3 hours a day engaged in light activity.

“Now people with health problems or physical limitations, who cannot increase the intensity of their activity, have a starting place in the effort to say independent,” Dunlop says.

The study’s results appeared April 29 in the British Medical Journal.

[Source: Northwestern University]