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Regular physical activity, however, can protect against such problems.
Researchers examined data from nearly 100,000 Australian men and women, aged 65 and older, and found that 8.4 percent of them were experiencing psychological distress.
Compared to those with no psychological distress, the risk of physical disability was more than four times higher among those with any level of psychological distress and nearly seven times higher among those with moderate levels.
The researchers also found that seniors who were more physically active were less likely to have physical disabilities.
The study appears April 5 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
"Our findings can influence the emphasis that we place on older adults to remain active," study leader Gregory Kolt, dean of the School of Science and Health at the University of Western Sydney, said in a journal news release. "With greater levels of physical activity, more positive health gains can be achieved, and with greater physical function (through physical activity), greater independence can be achieved."
Previous research has linked psychological distress to reduced physical activity and increased physical disability in many age groups.
-- Robert Preidt
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