Cannabis Use & Physical Activity in Older Adults

Written by Paul James

With more athletes coming out as cannabis users, the old stigma that cannabis makes you lazy is breaking. And findings from a new study add positive fuel to this debate. This report from researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder evaluated the impact of cannabis use on physical activity in adults aged 60 and older.[1]

This study is particularly interesting as older adults (over 50 years old) are the fastest growing demographic of cannabis users. While this news is quite encouraging as cannabis may aid in a number of ailments more prevalent in this group, older adults are also more likely to be taking multiple medications which could increase the risk of drug interactions with cannabis. Therefore, researchers set out to better understand the effects of cannabis use in this particular population.

Researchers analyzed data part of a larger clinical trial on exercise. Included in this analysis were 28 self-reported cannabis users and 136 nonusers with an average age of approximately 67. The researchers evaluated various aspects of physical health, including:

  • Body mass index (BMI)
  • Exercise behavior
  • Cardiovascular fitness

Study participants underwent 4 months of structured exercise training.

Consistent with previous reports, at baseline, the average BMI in cannabis users was significately lower than that of non-users. After structured exercise, cannabis users reported increased physical activity of 0.70 days more than non-users at the 8-week timepoint. Not to mention, they were 4.1 points higher on the exercise subscale of the Community Healthy Activities Model Program for Seniors at the 16-week timepoint.

Cardiovascular fitness improved in all participants following the exercise intervention but there was no difference between groups.

The researchers concluded, “These preliminary data suggest that current cannabis use status is not associated with a negative impact on fitness and efforts to increase exercise in sedentary older adults.”[1]

This study is significant because older populations tend to be less active than their younger counterparts. While this happens for obvious reasons, the more older adults exercise, the better chance they have to improve their health.

It’s worth noting that this study was observational in nature and therefore does not prove that cannabis use increased activity levels. Rather, it shows a correlation between increased physical activity during an exercise intervention program in cannabis users vs non-users. These findings suggest that using cannabinoids may help boost exercise motivation while engaged in an exercise program.

While cannabis is certainly not the sole answer to improving health in older adults, it may just make a great therapeutic sidekick. As always, talk to you doctor about cannabis before starting on any new products.

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  1. York Williams SL, et al. Exercise intervention outcomes with cannabis users and nonusers aged 60 and older. American Journal of Health Behavior. 2020;44(4):420-431.

About the author

Paul James