By Natasha Persaud

Here’s more incentive to protect your mental health: Older adults who experience any level of psychological distress, such as depression or anxiety, are more than four times as likely as other seniors to experience physical limitations, according to a recent study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. In other words, the mind might harm the body of an older person by preventing regular exercise and encouraging disability.

Active Seniors Image - BananaStock

That is one possible explanation for the research findings, a snapshot of physical activity among older adults. For the study, researchers examined questionnaire responses from over 91,000 Australian men and women aged 65 and older from the 45 and Up Study. They gauged weekly physical activity levels, current physical function, and levels of depression and anxiety.

About 8 percent of older adults were experiencing some level of psychological distress. Those with a moderate level of distress were 7 times more likely to have a functional limitation as those considered well. A functional limitation is a loss of ability to engage do everyday activities such as climbing stairs, grocery shopping or playing with grandchildren.

Although this study wasn’t designed to gauge cause and effect, the authors suggest that “engagement in PA [physical activity] is an important predictor of physical function in older adults.”

Are You Getting Enough Exercise?

The study results align well with advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), according to the study authors. Older adults can reap significant health benefits to their minds and bodies with regular, moderate activity, and even greater benefits with additional activity.

The CDC recommends that healthy adults 65 and older perform:

150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week and weight training and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms). See a sample strength-training program from the CDC.

Alternately, seniors can exercise at a higher intensity for less time: 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., jogging or running) every week, along with strength-training.

If you go beyond 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity, or 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity activity, you'll gain even more health benefits, according to the CDC.

Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program to learn about exercising safely within your limits, especially if you have a chronic health condition, such as arthritis, diabetes or heart disease.

Benefits of Physical Activity

Whatever your age, it’s important to start exercising now. According to background information in the study, regular moderate to vigorous activity is associated with fewer instances of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis and cancers (colon, breast, lung and prostate). It helps maintain the health of muscles, bones and joints. And it enhances mental health by reducing stress and anxiety and increasing self-esteem.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

News release. Active Older Adults Less Likely to Experience Psychological Distress. American Geriatrics Society. April 5, 2012.

Yorston, L. Physical Activity and Physical Function in Older Adults: The 45 and Up Study. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, Volume 60, Issue 4, pages 719–725, April 2012. DOI: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2012.03906.x

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 23 Apr 2012

Last Modified: 05 Mar 2015