The Healing Powers of Exercise

Medically Reviewed

If you experience a disabling injury or illness and are a regular exerciser, you’re more likely to recover faster than someone who is inactive. You’ll also be less prone to disability in the first place. And if you don’t get regular exercise, it’s not too late to start moving and reap the benefits of physical activity.

That’s what the sedentary 70- to 89-year-olds discovered when they took part in a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine in December 2016 to measure the effects of starting a late-life exercise routine on the ability to bounce back from a physical disability. Three and a half years after beginning an exercise program, they were one-third more likely to recover from a physical disability than a control group of inactive peers.

At the study’s onset, all 1,635 participants could walk a quarter of a mile in 15 minutes or less without assistance. Half of the subjects took part in an exercise program that included up to 150 minutes a week of walking, along with strength, flexibility, and balance training. The other half instead took regular health-related classes, with topics such as navigating the healthcare system and preventive services.

At the end of the study, the active group had spent 25 percent less time with limited mobility—or no longer being able to walk a quarter of a mile in 15 minutes—than the inactive group.

The take-home message? Being “too old” is no excuse for shunning activity. A simple quarter-mile walk at a moderate pace is all you need to help arm yourself against disability.

Read more about how exercise can help conditions such as inflammation and diabetes.