The Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) study has demonstrated that a program of moderate physical activity can reduce the risk of losing the ability to walk without aid. 

According to the JAMA study (2014;311[23]:2387-2396), that represents the single most important factor in determining whether older people can maintain their independence. Reduced mobility has also been shown to be an independent risk factor for morbidity, hospitalization, disability, and mortality.

The LIFE study, reportedly the largest randomized controlled trial ever conducted on the role of physical activity and health education in older adults, included 1,635 sedentary men and women aged 70 to 89 years. All had some physical limitations and were considered at risk for mobility disability. 

These individuals were randomized to a program of structured, moderate-intensity physical activity conducted in a center twice per week and at home 3 to 4 times per week or to a health-education program that addressed topics on successful aging. 

The activity program included aerobic, resistance, and flexibility training activities, progressing in part toward a goal of walking at moderate intensity for 30 minutes per day.

After a mean follow-up of 2.6 years, Marco Pahor, MD, and colleagues found that a regular, balanced, and moderate physical activity program reduced the risk of major mobility disability by 18%. This group was better able to maintain the ability to walk without assistance for 400 meters, the study’s principal measure.