Physical activity, function, and longevity among the very old

Arch Intern Med. 2009 Sep 14;169(16):1476-83. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2009.248.


Background: Recommendations encouraging physical activity (PA) set no upper age limit, yet evidence supporting the benefits of PA among the very old is sparse. We examined the effects of continuing, increasing, or decreasing PA levels on survival, function, and health status among the very old.

Methods: Mortality data from ages 70 to 88 years and health, comorbidity, and functional status at ages 70, 78, and 85 years were assessed through the Jerusalem Longitudinal Cohort Study (1990-2008). A representative sample of 1861 people born in 1920 and 1921 enrolled in this prospective study, resulting in 17 109 person-years of follow-up for all-cause mortality.

Results: Among physically active vs sedentary participants, respectively, at age 70, the 8-year mortality was 15.2% vs 27.2% (P < .001); at age 78, the 8-year mortality was 26.1% vs 40.8% (P <.001); and at age 85 years, the 3-year mortality was 6.8% vs 24.4% (P < .001). In Cox proportional-hazards models adjusting for mortality risk factors, lower mortality was associated with PA level at ages 70 (hazard ratio, 0.61; 95% confidence interval, 0.38-0.96), 78 (0.69; 0.48-0.98), and 85 (0.42; 0.25-0.68). A significant survival benefit was associated with initiating PA between ages 70 and 78 years (P = .04) and ages 78 and 85 years (P < .001). Participation in higher levels of PA, compared with being sedentary, did not show a dose-dependent association with mortality. The PA level at age 78 was associated with remaining independent while performing activities of daily living at age 85 (odds ratio, 1.92; 95% confidence interval, 1.11-3.33).

Conclusions: Among the very old, not only continuing but also initiating PA was associated with better survival and function. This finding supports the encouragement of PA into advanced old age.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Israel / epidemiology
  • Longevity*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Survival Rate*