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Elderly people who load the dishwasher, climb stairs or just keep moving are bound to live longer than their sedentary counterparts, a new study says.

The U.S. study, released yesterday, of 302 people aged 70 to 82 found those who engaged in more physical activity -- not necessarily formal exercise -- were much more likely to remain alive than those who did not move as much.

"The message here is that for older adults, any movement is better than no movement and that this can come from usual daily activities," said study author Todd Manini of the U.S. National Institute on Aging in Bethesda, Md.

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Among the one-third of study participants who expended the most energy, the risk of death over the six-year study period was 12 per cent, compared to nearly 25 per cent among the one-third who were least active.

Although the study did not specify why moving around might lessen the risk of dying, Dr. Manini said any exercise can help ward off ailments from heart disease to cancer.

Instead of relying on the word of the study subjects about their activities, they were given specially formulated water to drink that allowed researchers to measure levels of carbon dioxide emitted in their urine. Carbon dioxide is released during physical activity.

The people in the highest activity group were more likely to work for pay, not just volunteer occasionally, and also climbed two or more flights of stairs per day, says the study, which was published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.

An editorial published in the journal calls the findings "provocative," and suggests using a device to measure the intensity of activity to verify the results.

"Higher levels of activity energy expenditure appear to be protective and it is relevant to discuss how much and what type of physical activity is required to achieve these benefits," wrote William Haskell of the Stanford University School of Medicine in California and Steven Blair of the Cooper Institute in Dallas.

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