Long-term fitness training improves the circadian rest-activity rhythm in healthy elderly males

J Biol Rhythms. 1997 Apr;12(2):146-56. doi: 10.1177/074873049701200206.


In old age, the circadian timing system loses optimal functioning. This process is even accelerated in Alzheimer's disease. Because pharmacological treatment of day-night rhythm disturbances usually is not very effective and may have considerable side effects, nonpharmacological treatments deserve attention. Bright light therapy has been shown to be effective. It is known from animal studies that increased activity, or an associated process, also strongly affects the circadian timing system, and the present study addresses the question of whether an increased level of physical activity may improve circadian rhythms in elderly. In the study, 10 healthy elderly males were admitted to a fitness training program for 3 months. The circadian rest-activity rhythm was assessed by means of actigraphy before and after the training period and again 1 year after discontinuation. As a control for possible seasonal effects, repeated actigraphic recordings were performed during the same times of the year as were the pre and post measurements in a control group of 8 healthy elderly males. Fitness training induced a significant reduction in the fragmentation of the rest-activity rhythm. Moreover, the fragmentation of the rhythm was negatively correlated with the level of fitness achieved after the training. No seasonal effect was found. Previous findings in human and animal studies are reviewed, and several possible mechanisms involved in the effect of fitness training on circadian rhythms are discussed. The results suggest that fitness training may be helpful in elderly people suffering from sleep problems related to circadian rhythm disturbances.

MeSH terms

  • Activity Cycles*
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Physical Education and Training*
  • Physical Fitness*
  • Rest
  • Time Factors