Sensitivity to Physical Activity Predicts Reduced Activity in Older Adults

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senior citizens
Sensitivity to physical activity in older adults may be a risk factor for reduced physical activity.

Sensitivity to physical activity in older adults may be a risk factor for reduced physical activity, thus placing such individuals at a higher risk for increased sedentary behavior and functional decline, according to the results of a recent cross-sectional study published in Pain Medicine.

The aim of the current study was to determine the level of sensitivity to physical activity experienced by healthy older adults during a standardized walking test (6 Minute Walk Test [6MWT]), and whether sensitivity to physical activity is linked with temporal pain summation, pain-related fear of movement, and reduced physical activity/physical function.

A total of 52 healthy adults (ages 60-77; 61.5% women) were included in the analysis. Participants completed a screening/orientation session and 3 experimental sessions, during which they filled out several questionnaires, completed the 6MWT, and underwent quantitative sensory testing. All participants rated their overall bodily discomfort on a scale of 0 to 100 before and during each minute of the 6MWT. Repeated-measures analysis of variance was performed to establish whether reports of whole-body discomfort changed during each minute of the 6MWT.

Based on the results of this analysis, bodily discomfort ratings increased significantly during the 6MWT (P <.001), with approximately 60% of the participants experiencing sensitivity to physical activity during the walking task. According to hierarchic regression analysis, greater sensitivity to physical activity was associated with fewer average steps per day and a higher degree of activity-related pain. These analyses also showed that greater temporal summation of pain and pain-related fear of movement both significantly predicted a participant’s degree of sensitivity to physical activity on the 6MWT (P =.010 and P =.003, respectively).

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The investigators concluded that older adults with a fear of pain and/or a sensitized central nervous system are more likely to experience a sensitized reaction to standardized physical activity. The use of activity-related measures of pain and discomfort may help identify individuals at high risk for functional decline.


Miller L, Ohlman T, Naugle KM. Sensitivity to physical activity predicts daily activity among pain-free older adults [published online October 4, 2017]. Pain Med. doi:10.1093/pm/pnx251