Background: The positive health effects of physical activity are well known. However, there are few studies of the association between different levels of physical activity and all-cause mortality among elderly people.
Methods: A national random sample of 3206 women and men aged >/=65 were interviewed in 1988 and 1989 and followed until December 31, 2000, for all-cause mortality. Cox regression was used to analyze the association between five different levels of physical activity and all-cause mortality, after adjustment for gender, age, education, smoking habits, body mass index, diabetes, hypertension, and self-rated health. All analyses were conducted in 2003.
Results: For elderly people who were physically active occasionally, the risk of all-cause mortality was 28% lower than for those who were physically inactive (hazard ratio [HR]=0.72; confidence interval [CI]=0.64-0.81), after adjustment for all explanatory variables. For those who were physically active once a week, the risk of all-cause mortality was 40% lower than for those who were physically inactive (HR=0.60; CI=0.50-0.71). For those who were physically active more frequently, the reduction in all-cause mortality risk was about the same as for those who were physically active once a week. Diabetes, hypertension, and daily smoking were, as expected, significant risk factors for all-cause mortality.
Conclusions: Physical activity, even occasionally, decreases the risk of all-cause mortality among elderly people. Preventive resources among the elderly should include moderate exercise such as walking.