Health Benefits of Physical Activity in Older Patients: A Review

T. Vogel; P.-H. Brechat; P.-M. Leprêtre; G. Kaltenbach; M. Berthel; J. Lonsdorfer


Int J Clin Pract. 2009;63(2):303-320. 

In This Article

Summary and Introduction


As the number of elderly persons in our country increases, more attention is being given to geriatric healthcare needs and successful ageing is becoming an important topic in medical literature. Concept of successful ageing is in first line on a preventive approach of care for older people. Promotion of regular physical activity is one of the main non-pharmaceutical measures proposed to older subjects as low rate of physical activity is frequently noticed in this age group. Moderate but regular physical activity is associated with a reduction in total mortality among older people, a positive effect on primary prevention of coronary heart disease and a significant benefit on the lipid profile. Improving body composition with a reduction in fat mass, reducing blood pressure and prevention of stroke, as well as type 2 diabetes, are also well established. Prevention of some cancers (especially that of breast and colon), increasing bone density and prevention of falls are also reported. Moreover, some longitudinal studies suggest that physical activity is linked to a reduced risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease in particular.


Most Western societies see a significant ageing of their population that will be further accentuated in the coming decades. Among physiological changes that occur during the ageing process, decline in aerobic capacity estimated as peak oxygen consumption (V02max) (5-10% per decade in untrained individuals) and the lost of muscle tissue resulting in diminished mass and strength (sarcopenia process) are the most important with regard to quality of life, functional independence and mortality.[1] The rate of decline in aerobic capacity is probably not linear, but accelerates dramatically with advancing decades.[2] Ability of older subjects to function independently depends largely on maintenance of sufficient aerobic capacity and muscle strength.

Elderly people with a poor aerobic capacity avoid physical activities and so lose their muscle mass and strength, with further reduction in aerobic capacity, causing a vicious cycle. Taking these concepts into account, the promotion of regular physical activity is one of the main non-pharmaceutical measures that should be promoted in older subjects, especially regarding a preventive approach for 'a successful ageing'.

For the general population, it is known that regular physical activity offers primary and secondary prevention of several chronic conditions. Concerning older and very older subjects, the effect of physical activity is less documented.[3] The aim of this review is to assess the health benefits of physical activity in older subjects.


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