Exercise Protects Us from Disability, but Not Always

Senior couple doing stretching exercise

This MIDUS study looked at whether exercise helps reduce the likelihood of becoming disabled among those who develop multiple chronic conditions over a twenty-year period.

Results showed that:

    • developing more chronic conditions (heart disease, arthritis, obesity) and exercising less often were associated with developing more functional limitations that create difficulties completing daily activities (carrying groceries, dressing yourself).
    • Those with a more gradual increase in number of chronic conditions, who maintained long-term exercise, had the slowest rise in functional limitations.

However, the protective effect of exercise varied by age:

    • For midlife adults, maintaining long-term physical activity was associated with developing fewer functional limitations, regardless of how many chronic conditions they developed.
    • For older adults, maintaining activity was only associated with less disability when their number of chronic conditions developed more slowly.

This study suggests that interventions to help adults in midlife maintain physical activity levels can limit later life disability. For older adults, it may also be important to account for the rate of accumulation of chronic conditions to determine who would benefit most from exercise, or who needs alternative treatments.

Source: Rector, J. L., Marceau, K., & Friedman, E. M. (2020). Moderation of the association between chronic medical conditions and functional limitations over time by physical activity: Effects of age. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 75(1), 168-174. https://doi.org/10.1093/gerona/glz020

Read the full article at: http://www.midus.wisc.edu/findings/pdfs/2086.pdf