Background: Age-related loss in physiologic capacities contributes to the decline in physical function in the elderly population. Despite the beneficial effects of exercise interventions on maximal physiologic capacity measures, the functional benefits have not been shown in independently living older adults. The objective of this study was to evaluate exercise in independent older adults for significant and meaningful improvements in physical function, not detected by commonly used measures of physical function.
Methods: In a randomized controlled study, 49 independently living men and women were assigned to either a nonexercise control group (Control; n = 26) or an exercise training group (Exercise; n = 23). Participants (age = 76+/-4) in good general health were recruited from retirement communities or apartments. The combined endurance and strength training was performed at 75% to 80% intensity; the groups met 3 times/week for 6 months of supervised sessions. Outcome measures included physical capacity, health status, and physical function using a newly developed performance test--the Continuous Scale-Physical Functional Performance test (CS-PFP).
Results: Compared to the Control group, the Exercise group showed significant increases in maximal oxygen consumption (11%) and muscle strength (33%). No significant differences were found between groups for changes in the Sickness Impact Profile, SF-36 scales, or the 6-minute walk. However, the CS-PFP score improved significantly in the Exercise group (14%, effect size 0.80).
Conclusions: Independent older adults gain meaningful functional benefits from several months of exercise training. The public health importance of physical activity may relate not just to its role in preventing decline, but also to its role in enhancing physical function.