Navigate Up

UPMC/University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
For Journalists
Allison Hydzik
Senior Manager
Telephone: 412-647-9975
Senior Director
Telephone: 412-586-9777

Want to Make an Appointment or Need Patient Information?

Contact UPMC at
1-800-533-UPMC (8762).

Go to Find a Doctor to search for a UPMC doctor.​

Landmark Clinical Trial Proves Physical Activity Prevents Loss of Mobility in Older Adults

PITTSBURGH, May 27, 2014 – A 20-minute brisk walk around the neighborhood each day could significantly help older adults maintain their ability to walk, according to the results of the longest-running randomized clinical trial evaluating physical activity in the elderly.
The University of Pittsburgh was one of eight field centers that recruited and monitored trial participants. The much-anticipated findings will be presented today at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Orlando and concurrently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“Doctors have long suspected that maintaining or starting physical activity is important in promoting good health as we age,” said Anne Newman, M.D., M.P.H., principal investigator on the study and chair of Pitt Graduate School of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology. “But until this study, we didn’t have the proof necessary to say that daily exercise, sustained over several years, truly can prevent loss of mobility. Doctors can now feel confident that moderate physical activity improves the independence and mobility of older adults.”
Dr. Newman and her fellow investigators, coordinated by Marco Pahor, M.D., director of the University of Florida’s Institute on Aging, obtained those results through the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders, or LIFE study. This study recruited and followed 1,635 sedentary men and women — 216 from Pittsburgh — aged 70 to 89.
Dr. Newman, a geriatrician, supervised the Pittsburgh arm of the LIFE study. For the national study, she chaired the ancillary studies review committee and wrote the outcome procedures for cardiovascular events and the procedures for participant medical clearance at enrollment and for return after illness.
The study showed that prescribed daily physical activity would prevent older adults’ loss of mobility, defined in the study as the inability to walk 400 meters, or about a quarter of a mile. That is approximately equal to a trip from a parked car to a grocery store or a walk through a neighborhood.
Moderate physical activity helped aging adults maintain their ability to walk at a rate 18 percent higher than older adults who did not exercise. It also resulted in a 28 percent reduction in people permanently losing the ability to walk easily.
“This large impact on reducing persistent disability is important,” said Dr. Newman. “Beyond simply maintaining mobility, this shows that we can repair a deficit through physical activity.”
When recruited to the study, participants could walk a quarter mile within 15 minutes, but were at risk for losing that ability. Low physical performance can be a predictor of early death and higher hospitalization rates. Patients with low physical performance are not often recruited to large studies, making it difficult to give research-backed medical recommendations.
“These are people who are patients we see every day. This is why this study is so important: It includes a population that is typically understudied,” said Dr. Pahor.
The participants were randomly sorted into two groups. For two years, the first group walked 150 minutes per week and did strength, flexibility and balance training. Twice each week, they visited field centers, which kept them on track with their exercise. The second group attended health education classes and performed stretching exercises. This phase of the study occurred between February 2010 and December 2013.
Research technicians assessed study participants every six months, checking their ability to walk, their body weight, blood pressure and pulse rate, among other measurements. The staff was not told which participants were assigned to physical activity or to the education classes.
At Pitt, nearly two dozen researchers, students, technicians, nurses and exercise physiologists ensured the trial and data collection ran smoothly. All eight field centers regularly communicated with one another to share tips for encouraging participants to stay in the study.
The researchers noted that there is still a vast amount of data available from the study that needs to be analyzed, including looking at the effects of physical activity on the participants’ cognitive function. The research team also plans to determine how physical activity affected the participants’ physiological, social and biologic factors.
In addition to Pitt and the University of Florida, LIFE study field centers include Northwestern University, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Stanford University, Tufts University, Wake Forest University and Yale University.
In Pittsburgh, primary faculty on the LIFE study are Stephanie Studenski, M.D., Ph.D., Bret Goodpaster, Ph.D., Nancy Glynn, Ph.D., and Oscar Lopez, M.D., all of, or formerly of, the University of Pittsburgh.
This research is funded by NIH and National Institute on Aging Cooperative Agreement U01AG22376, and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute grant no. 3U01AG022376-05A2S.

UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences Supplemental content provided by Healthwise, Incorporated. To learn more, visit

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

Pittsburgh, PA, USA |