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NIA Undertakes Largest Ever Walking Study Of Seniors’ Health

November 6, 2009
The National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health, just announced the award of $29.5 million in grant support over the next two years to determine whether a specific physical activity program can stave off disability in older people. The funding will begin the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders—LIFE—trial, the largest ever undertaken to prevent mobility disability among older people who are at risk of losing their ability to walk and to live independently in the community. “There is a lot of evidence indicating that exercise can help in preventing diseases, such as diabetes, among older people. But we do not know whether and how a specific regimen might prevent walking disability in older people who are at risk of losing mobility,” said NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, MD. At eight sites around the country, LIFE will involve 1,600 people aged 70 to 89, who at the start of the study meet its criteria for risk of walking disability, defined as the inability to walk a quarter of a mile or four blocks. About 200 participants will be enrolled at each of the study sites, which include the University of Florida; the University of Pittsburgh; Northwestern University School of Medicine in Chicago; Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA; Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, LA; Yale University in New Haven, CT; Tufts University in Boston and Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC. Study participants will be randomly assigned to one of two groups. One group will follow a structured intervention consisting of walking at moderate intensity, stretching, balance and lower extremity strength training; the control group will participate in a health education program. Researchers will evaluate whether, compared to health education, the physical activity intervention reduces the risk of major walking disability, serious fall injuries and disability in activities of daily living, and whether it improves cognitive function.