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Physical activity and successful aging
10th International EGREPA Conference

European Group for Research into Elderly and Physical Activity

14.09. - 16.09.2006 in Köln

Physical activity in very old age - the key to lifelong functional and cognitive independence

Meeting Abstract

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  • corresponding author C. Rott - University of Heidelberg, Germany

Physical activity and successful aging. Xth International EGREPA Conference. Cologne, 14.-16.09.2006. Düsseldorf, Köln: German Medical Science; 2006. Doc06pasa033

The electronic version of this article is the complete one and can be found online at:

Published: December 18, 2006

© 2006 Rott.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( You are free: to Share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work, provided the original author and source are credited.



Many people do not realize that life expectancy has now reached a level that implies that most people alive today in Germany will probably have a very long life (between 90 and 100 years). There are no signs that life expectancy is approaching its limits in the near future although many experts believe it is. The consequences of longer and longer lives are not clear. Three scenarios are discussed nowadays: (1) a pandemic of chronic diseases and disability, (2) a dynamic equilibrium of frequency and severity of chronic diseases and (3) a compression of morbidity into a very short period prior to death. While succeeding cohorts of elderly individuals in the Third Age reveal improving health and a substantial potential for better fitness, the Forth Age, describing the oldest old, is still a phase in life where the functional and cognitive resources are not sufficient to ensure independent living. Beyond the age of 80 years there is an increasing risk to pass a critical threshold of functioning. The degree of dependency is substantial. Sixty percent of those aged 90 to 95 years need nursing care. The prevalence rate of dementia is 50 to 60 percent in this age group. Several studies demonstrate that physical activity reduces the probability to lose functional capacities, postpones the onset of disability, and reduces mortality. Science as well as the sports organizations have just began to study the oldest old. Solid evidence about basic processes and the effectiveness of interventions as well as experiences with physical activity programmes for the oldest old are scarce. Only the effectiveness of strength training with respect to everyday competence is well demonstrated since many years. New imaging techniques corroborate the notion that aerobic training enhances cognitive vitality, reduces brain tissue loss, and lowers the risk of dementia. Resulting expectations of the modifiability of aging processes have to consider that the limits of human plasticity clearly emerge in very old age. Experiences with interventions for oldest old in Japan demonstrate that a competent and efficient network on the local (community) level is an important element to successfully prevent dependency on care in very old age and to reach a much larger number of oldest old than today. But in many cases the necessary structures have first to be constructed in Germany.