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Jul 24, 2015 04:46 PM EDT

Walking, Doing Household Chores May Significantly Improve The Health Of Older Adults

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Walking around the neighborhood or slow dancing could provide some significant health benefits for people 65 years and older -- if they get enough of that type of activity, according to a recent study.

Researchers at Oregon State University found that 300 minutes walking or leisurely sports such as table tennis, household chores and other light-intensity exercise may be nearly as effective as moderate or vigorous exercise for older adults.

"You get a nice array of health benefits by doing five hours of light physical activity per week," said Brad Cardinal, a professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. "There appears to be some real value in devoting at least three percent of the 168 hours available in a week to these light forms of physical activity."

Current medical recommendations suggest that all adults engage in 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. The researchers wanted to know whether exercise of less intensity, done more often, would produce similar health benefits.

For the study, researchers collected and analyzed results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted from 2003 to 2006.

They found that older adults who participated in light intensity exercise activities for 300 minutes or more were 18 percent healthier, overall, than peers who did not log that much light activity. They had lower body mass index (BMI), smaller waist circumference, better insulin rates and were less likely to have chronic diseases.

"These findings highlight that, in addition to promoting moderate-intensity physical activity to older adults, we should not neglect the importance of engaging in lower-intensity, movement-based behaviors when the opportunity arises," Paul Loprinzi, lead author of the study, said in a statement. "For example, instead of talking on the phone in a seated position, walking while talking will help increase our overall physical activity level."

More research is needed to determine if light activity can lead to improved health, Cardinal said.

The findings are detailed in the current issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.

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