Background: Among older adults, loss of mobility represents a critical stage in the disablement process, whereby the risk for disability is significantly increased. Physical activity is a modifiable risk factor that is associated with reduced risk of losing mobility in older adulthood; however, few studies have examined physical activity performed earlier in life in relation to mobility later in life. Methods: Data from a population-based study of 1155 adults aged 65 years and older living in the Chianti region of Italy in 1998-2000 were analyzed in 2005 and 2006. Participants retrospectively recalled their physical activity levels in midlife and underwent mobility testing and medical examination. Two objective mobility outcomes were examined as a function of past physical activity: the Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB) and the ability to walk 400 meters. Results: Older Italian adults (mean age 74.8, standard deviation 7.3) who engaged in higher levels of physical activity in midlife were significantly more likely to perform better on the SPPB than individuals who were less physically active in midlife. In addition, failure to complete the 400-meter walk test was significantly less likely among physically active men (Level II) (odds ratio [OR]=0.37, 95% confidence interval [CI]=0.15-0.93) and very active men (Level III) (OR=0.23, 95% CI=0.09-0.63) when compared to men who were less active (Level I) in the past (p for trend, 0.008). These associations remained after adjustment for demographic factors, medical conditions, and physiologic impairments. Conclusions: Older adults who reported higher levels of physical activity in midlife had better mobility in old age than less physically active ones. © 2006 American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
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