Consequences of physical inactivity in older adults: A systematic review of reviews and meta-analyses

Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2020 May;30(5):816-827. doi: 10.1111/sms.13616. Epub 2020 Feb 4.


Background: Globally, populations are ageing. Typically, physical activity levels decline and health worsens as we age; however, estimates of the impact of physical inactivity for population health often fail to specifically focus on older adults.

Methods: Multiple databases were searched for systematic reviews and/or meta-analyses of longitudinal observational studies, investigating the relationship between physical activity and any physical or mental health outcome in adults aged ≥60 years. Quality of included reviews was assessed using AMSTAR.

Results: Twenty-four systematic reviews and meta-analyses were included. The majority of reviews were of moderate or high methodological quality. Physically active older adults (≥60 years) are at a reduced risk of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality, breast and prostate cancer, fractures, recurrent falls, ADL disability and functional limitation and cognitive decline, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and depression. They also experience healthier ageing trajectories, better quality of life and improved cognitive functioning.

Conclusion: This review of reviews provides a comprehensive and systematic overview of epidemiological evidence from previously conducted research to assess the associations of physical activity with physical and mental health outcomes in older adults.

Keywords: ageing; exercise; health; physical activity; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Chronic Disease / prevention & control*
  • Exercise*
  • Humans
  • Mental Health*
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality
  • Quality of Life
  • Review Literature as Topic
  • Sedentary Behavior*