In April 2017 the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity published findings that prove walking up to one hour per week maintains mobility as older women age.
The aim of this study was to identify determinants of walking and whether walking maintained mobility among women as they transition from their mid-70s to their late 80s.
The study ran from 1999 to 2011, fifteen determinants of walking were included in the analysis and three indicators of mobility. Longitudinal data analyses techniques were employed. Thirteen of the 15 determinants were significant predictors of walking. The results found that women in their mid-70s who walked up to one hour per week were less likely to experience loss of mobility in very old age, including reduced likelihood of using a mobility aid. Hence, older women who do no walking should be encouraged to walk to maintain their mobility and their independence as they age.
Why older women should stay mobile
These findings are important as mobility enables older adults to remain in their own homes as they age and also facilitates social engagement outside the home and helps maintain psychological health. This particular research was carried out in Australia, where (as with most developed countries) older women are at greater risk of reduced mobility compared with older men. Reduced mobility such as difficulty in walking or climbing stairs among older women has been associated with disengaging in goals relating to exercise and cultural activities. Walking as a form of mobility can be overlooked in older adults because of their reliance on the car for transport, yet maintaining the ability to walk outside the home increases the likelihood of older adults continuing to live independently, whereas losing the ability to walk increases the likelihood of moving into residential care.
Walking has been identified as having the greatest potential for reach and population level impact to maintain mobility among the elderly. A previous year-long study by Simonsick, et al in 2005 found that ‘functionally limited’ women aged 65 years and older, found that regularly walking about a quarter of a mile maintained walking ability.
This study identified both determinants of walking as well as the effect of walking duration, independent of other physical activity, on subsequent mobility as older women transition from their mid-70s into their mid to late 80s. Very elderly women are at increased risk of challenges to their mobility due to ill-health, falls, disability, particularly due to the increased incidence of arthritis and living alone due to the death of a spouse.
Yet our study has shown that after controlling for these factors, walking up to one hour per week reduced the risk of mobility loss. This finding aligns with mounting evidence for the importance of lower intensity exercise among older adults, particularly among those who are sedentary.
The study highlighted that the more they walk the better results as there were links between walking 150 min’s or more per week and a higher mobility score, lower amounts of walking are better than no walking.
Our study did not find a significant relationship between walking duration and continuing to drive in very old age. This finding suggested that predictors of continuing to drive were more complex than included in our model and differed from other measures of mobility. For example, nondrivers, particularly those who use public transport may walk more as part of getting to and from their homes and public transport services. The researchers were unable to consider the amount of walking associated with public transport use in our study because this information could not be collected, but a recent Australian study by Barr et al in 2016, found accessibility to public transport increased the likelihood of meeting the recommended amount of physical activity from walking alone among adults of all ages.
Living alone, which commonly occurs following the death of a spouse, was a significant determinant of walking in our study. Arthritis significantly reduced the likelihood of walking, but more than one chronic disease (other than arthritis) was not associated with reduced walking.
Conclusion of the study
Walking up to 1 hour a week, although less than the recommended amount for older adults, assists in the maintenance of mobility among older women, including walking ability, the ability to walk up stairs and reduced likelihood of using a mobility aid. As the majority of older women did no walking, with the proportion increasing with age, encouraging those who do no, or very little walking, to walk up to 1 hour per week should be an integral part of walking recommendations in this age group. In addition, older women who smoke, who are overweight, have arthritis or who have had a recent fall and who are capable of walking, should be encouraged to do so to reduce the risk of loss of mobility over time.
The full journal article includes the methods, a full data analysis and detailed results.