According to a new study published recently in Pain, physically active older adults have a lower perception of pain and are better able to block responses to painful stimuli.

“This study provides the first objective evidence suggesting that physical activity behavior is related to the functioning of the endogenous pain modulatory systems in older adults,” write Kelly M. Naugle, PhD, and colleagues from Indiana University—Purdue University Indianapolis, in a media release.

Study participants included 51 healthy adults, ages 60 to 77, all of whom wore an activity monitor for 1 week to measure their level of physical activity.

The participants then underwent two pain modulation tests—“temporal summation,” which measured the production of pain responses to repeated pain stimuli, and “conditioned pain modulation,” which assessed the reduction of pain responses to competing pain stimuli, the release explains.

The researchers suggest that both tests showed that pain modulation was significantly related to one’s daily physical activity level. Older adults with more frequent moderate-to-vigorous physical activity had lower pain scores on the temporal summation test—indicating less pain facilitation. Those who did more light physical activity or had less sedentary time per day had lower pain scores on the conditioned pain modulation test—indicating better pain inhibition, the release adds.

“Our data suggest that low levels of sedentary behavior and greater light physical activity may be critical in maintaining effective endogenous pain inhibitory function in older adults,” Naugle and colleagues conclude.

The team adds that further studies will be needed to test the implications for physical activity programs to reduce and prevent pain in older adults.

For example, they note, it might be possible to match the patient’s specific dysfunctional pain modulation pattern to the type of physical activity that can best improve their pain response patterns.

[Source(s): Wolters Kluwer Health: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, Newswise]