ASPPH logo


Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

University at Buffalo Led Study Finds That for Older Women, Every Movement Matters

Doing routine household chores like cleaning the bathroom helps lower the risk of death for women age 63 and older, a Buffalo University-led study has determined.  In the U.S. study of more than 6,000 white, African-American and Hispanic women ages 63 to 99, researchers reported significantly lower risk of death in those who were active at levels only slightly higher than what defines being sedentary.

[Photo: Dr. LaMonte]

Women who engaged in 30 minutes per day of light physical activity — as measured by an accelerometer instead of a questionnaire — had a 12 percent lower risk of death. Women who were able to do a half-hour each day of moderate to vigorous activity had a 39 percent lower mortality risk, according to the study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

For the age group in this study, light physical activities include regular chores such as folding clothes, sweeping the floor, or washing the windows. Activities like these account for more than 55 percent of how older people spend their daily activity. Moderate to vigorous activities would be walking or bicycling.

Even when researchers simultaneously accounted for the amount of each type of activity — light and moderate-to-vigorous — a woman did, they still observed significantly lower mortality associated with each time, independently of the other. “This is remarkable because current public health guidelines require that physical activity be of at least moderate or higher intensity to confer health benefits,” says lead author Dr. LaMonte, research associate professor of epidemiology and environmental health in the University at Buffalo School of Public Health. “Our study shows, for the first time in older women, that health is benefited, even at physical activity levels below the guideline recommendations.”

“The mortality benefit of light intensity activity extended to all subgroups that we examined,” adds Dr. Andrea LaCroix, the study’s principal investigator and professor and chief of epidemiology at the University of California, San Diego. The mortality benefit was similar for women younger than 80 compared to women over the age of 80. It was similar across racial/ethnic backgrounds, and among obese and non-obese women. “Perhaps most importantly for this population, the mortality benefit was similar among women with high and low functional ability,” Dr. LaCroix says. While the study focused on older women, researchers say their findings send a powerful message to younger women and men — that it’s important to develop healthy habits around physical activity while you are young so that you are more likely to maintain them when getting older.

The study incorporated a novel approach. Unlike the majority of previous studies on this issue in which physical activity was measured using questionnaires, researchers measured physical activity using accelerometers. These motion-sensing devices electronically document and store daily movement patterns and intensity on a 24-hour clock for as many days as the device is worn. Women in this study wore the devices for between four and seven days. Researchers then downloaded the information and analyzed it.

To make their analysis of physical activity even more specific to older women, they also conducted a laboratory study in a subset of study participants during which they aligned the accelerometer information with completion of activity tasks germane to older women’s usual daily activity habits.  “No other study as large as ours and specifically on older women has included this step to enhance interpretation of accelerometer data in a context relevant to the study participants,” Dr. LaMonte says.

Study co-authors include researchers from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; University of California, San Diego; University of Alabama; Harvard University; Cornell University; University of Washington; Brown University; and Stanford University. Women in this study were enrolled in the Objective Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Health Study ancillary to the Women’s Health Initiative.Top of FormBottom of Form