In older adults reduced mobility is common and is an independent risk factor for morbidity, hospitalization, disability, and mortality. Limited evidence suggests that physical activity may help prevent mobility disability; however, there are no definitive clinical trials examining if physical activity prevents or delays mobility disability.
To test the hypothesis that a long-term structured physical activity program is more effective than a health education program (also referred to as a successful aging program) in reducing the risk of major mobility disability.
Design, Setting, and Participants
The Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) study was a multicenter, randomized trial that enrolled participants between February 2010 and December 2011, who participated for an average of 2.6 years. Follow-up ended in December 2013. Outcome assessors were blinded to the intervention assignment. Participants were recruited from urban, suburban and rural communities at 8 field centers throughout the US. We randomized a volunteer sample of 1,635 sedentary men and women aged 70–89 years who had physical limitations, defined as a score on the Short Physical Performance Battery of 9 or below, but were able to walk 400 m.
Participants were randomized to a structured moderate intensity physical activity program (n=818) done in a center and at home that included including aerobic, resistance and flexibility training activities or to a health education program (n=817) consisting of workshops on topics relevant to older adults and upper extremity stretching exercises.
Main Outcomes and Measures
The primary outcome was major mobility disability objectively defined by loss of ability to walk 400 m.
Incident major mobility disability occurred in 30.1% (n=246/818) of physical activity and 35.5% (n=290/817) of health education participants (HR=0.82, 95%CI=0.69–0.98, p=0.03). Persistent mobility disability was experienced by 120/818 (14.7%) physical activity and 162/817 (19.8%) health education participants (HR=0.72; 95%CI=0.57–0.91; p=0.006). Serious adverse events were reported by 404/818 (49.4%) of the physical activity and 373/817 (45.7%) of the health education participants (Risk Ratio=1.08; 95%CI=0.98–1.20).
Conclusions and Relevance
A structured moderate intensity physical activity program, compared with a health education program, reduced major mobility disability over 2.6 years among older adults at risk of disability. These findings suggest mobility benefit from such a program in vulnerable older adults.
ClinicalsTrials.gov identifier NCT01072500.