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One health policy specialist said the study released Monday suggests prescribing exercise may be just as important as prescribing medications. It’s not too late to get moving: Simple physical activity — mostly walking — helped high-risk seniors stay mobile after disability-inducing ailments even if, at 70 and beyond, they’d long been couch potatoes.
“Once you lose that mobility piece of your life, then you really lose independence,” said Patricia Katz of the University of California, San Francisco, who wasn’t part of the new research but said physicians need to put the findings to use. The study enrolled more than 1,600 adults between the ages of 70 and 89 considered at high risk for disability because they were sedentary and had various chronic health problems, such as heart disease or diabetes. More than 2 in 5 were 80 or older. To enroll, they had to be able to walk a quarter of a mile in 15 minutes — a long time, and some needed every minute.