Health benefits of increased walking for sedentary, generally healthy older adults: Using longitudinal data to approximate an intervention trial

Paula Diehr, Calvin H Hirsch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

17 Scopus citations


Older adults are often advised to walk more, but randomized trials have not conclusively established the benefits of walking in this age group. Typical analyses based on observational data may have biased results. Here, we propose a "limited-bias," more interpretable estimate of the health benefits to sedentary healthy older adults of walking more, using longitudinal data from the Cardiovascular Health Study.Methods. The number of city blocks walked per week, collected annually, was classified as sedentary (<7 blocks per week), somewhat active, or active (≥28). Analysis was restricted to persons sedentary and healthy in the first 2 years. In Year 3, some became more active (the treatment groups). Self-rated health at Year 5 (follow-up) was regressed on walking at Year 3, with additional covariates from Year 2, when all were sedentary.Results. At follow-up, 83.5% of those active at baseline had excellent, very good, or good self-rated health, as compared with 63.9% of the sedentary, an apparent benefit of 19.6 percentage points. After covariate adjustment, the limited-bias estimate of the benefit was 11.2 percentage points (95% confidence interval 3.7-18.6). Ten different outcome measures showed a benefit, ranging from 5 to 11 percentage points. Estimates from other study designs were smaller, less interpretable, and potentially more biased.Conclusions. In longitudinal studies where walking and health are ascertained at every wave, limited-bias estimates can provide better estimates of the benefits of walking. A surprisingly small increase in walking was associated with meaningful health benefits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)982-989
Number of pages8
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series A Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences
Volume65 A
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2010



  • ADL
  • Exercise
  • Selection bias
  • Self-rated health
  • Walking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Medicine(all)

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