Background: Information is lacking about the physiological and psychosocial effects of exercise among very old persons.
Aim: To investigate the effect of a twice-weekly, six-month progressive walking programme on 38 healthy women in their ninth decade, for evidence of the benefits of exercise.
Methods: Aerobic fitness, blood pressure, skinfold thickness and habitual activity patterns were studied in a randomised controlled trial. Women were chosen, as this is a group of increasing demographic importance for which studies are lacking.
Results: The training group and control group were not significantly different at baseline. However, after six months of progressive exercise the training group showed lower resting (p < 0.05) and working (p < 0.005) heart rates compared with non-exercising controls. ANCOVA analyses indicated higher scores for the training group compared with the control group for Maximum Current Activity and Normative Impairment Index (both p < 0.001), which are both components of the Habitual Activity Profile. Morale also significantly improved within the training group (p < 0.01).
Conclusions: These data show the trainability of very old women and the positive impact a low frequency, progressive exercise programme can have on cardiorespiratory fitness and daily living activity patterns. Such improvements are likely to be indicative of an enhanced outlook for independence.