Exercise, including activities of short duration and low intensity, may provide life expectancy benefits for older adults, according to recent research.

A news release issued by the European Society of Cardiology points out that such conclusions have been investigated in the general population, in which a recommended exercise program of 30 minutes at least 5 days a week has been shown to reduce the average risk of death by 30%. Yet, such a correlation between the level of physical activity and risk of death has reportedly not been so clearly determined in older adults.

The release adds that physical activity guidelines are the same for middle-aged adults as older adults, although it is estimated that more than 60% of older adults are unable to achieve this level of exercise.

During a study in a French cohort of more than 1,000 older adult subjects (the PROOF study), researchers report a negative correlation between their level of physical activity and risk of all-cause death, indicating that in older adults (as in other population groups) the risk of death decreases with greater and more regular exercise.

The release notes that Dr David Hupin, the department of Clinical and Exercise Physiology at the University of St-Etienne-Lyon, France, presented the study results at EuroPRevent 2015.1

 Study subjects were enrolled in the study at age 65 in 2001 and followed-up for 13 years. During that follow-up, their level of activity was monitored and categorized according to five levels of MET-h values per week: <1; 1-3.74; 3-75-7.49 (equivalent to brisk walking for up to 150 minutes per week, and the recommended activity level); 7.5-15; and >15 MET-h per week.2 Mortality and cardiovascular events were recorded during the follow-up period and linked to exercise levels, the release says.

According to the study’s results, around 10% of the eligible cohort died during the follow-up period. Yet, the risk of death was calculated to be 57% lower among those whose activity level was equal to or higher than the recommended 150 minutes per week (7.5-15 MET-h per week). The release also notes that individuals engaging in a very low level of physical activity per week (1-3.74 MET-h/week) had 51% lower risk of death than those engaging in the very minimum (<1 MET-h/week). These differences in risk, the release adds, were statistically significant.

Researchers say additional significant findings include that starting or re-starting physical activity during retirement reduced the risk of death by two-thirds, yet in contrast any reduction, even in low levels of activity, exposed older adults to a higher risk of death.

Hupin comments on the study results in the release, noting that several conclusions might be drawn, yet notably that the level of physical activity in older adults was negatively linked to a mortality rate in a “dose-dependent” way and that even a low level of exercise below current recommendations had some protective effect.

Hupin also recommends that at least 15 minutes of physical activity 5 days a week would be an appropriate first target for older adults.

“This could include brisk walking, cycling, swimming, or gymnastics, all possibly associated with leisure time physical activity or daily life activities,” Hupin says.

Widespread acceptable of this message, Hupin notes, may encourage more older adults to include even “low doses” of physical activity in their usual daily activities, without experiencing high levels of fatigue or pain.

The release states that PROOF study results were confirmed in a meta-analysis performed by the same group and reported at this same EuroPRevent congress.3 This analysis drew from data involving nearly 120,000 subjects. The results indicate that “low-dose” moderate-to-vigorous physical activity—of, for example, 75 minutes per week or 15 minutes per day—significantly reduced mortality in older adults.


  1. Hupin D, Roche F, Gremeaux V, et al. Relation between physical activity and morbi-mortality of elderly people: the Proof cohort study. Presented at EuroPRevent 2015, Lisbon.

  2. METs, or metabolic equivalents, are a measure of physiological measure expressing the energy cost of physical activities. One MET is defined as a rate of oxygen consumption of 3.5 ml/kg/min in adults, which is the rate of oxygen expended at rest. Different activities have been associated with different MET intensity. The MET “dose” is determined by three components of physical activity: intensity (MET), duration (hour) and frequency (per week).

  3. Hupin D, Roche F, Gremeaux, et al. Low-dose physical activity reduces mortality in the elderly. A systematic review and meta-analysis. Presented at EuroPRevent 2015, Lisbon.

Source: ESC