A new study shows getting active in middle and old age - even if
you weren't active before - can help you live longer.
The study, published on Thursday in the BMJ and reported by the
ABC, followed about 15,000 middle-aged and older men and women in
the UK for more than 20 years.
The researchers recorded participants' physical activity levels
at two points: the beginning of the study and then at roughly the
10-year mark. They then looked at how many people in the study had
died by around the 20-year mark.
It found people whose activity levels had increased were
substantially more likely to live longer, regardless of their
initial activity level or other factors such as diet, obesity,
blood pressure or cholesterol.
The findings show it's never too late to start boosting your
longevity with exercise, said study co-author Dr Soren Brage of the
University of Cambridge.
"It's like putting money in the bank," Dr Brage said.
"You invest in your future health and
nothing is ever wasted but it's also never too late."
Maintaining and increasing activity levels were linked to
significant changes to risk of death.
How was activity level defined in the study? Participants were
sorted into three groups:
- Low: Those who didn't meet the World Health
Organisation (WHO) minimum physical activity guidelines
- Medium: Those who did the equivalent of the
WHO minimum physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate
intensity activity per week
- High: Those who met the WHO recommendations
for additional health benefits of 300 minutes of moderate intensity
activity per week, or equivalent
Dr Brage said people who maintained a medium level of activity
had a 28 per cent lower risk of mortality compared with those who
had low activity levels at both time points.
"Twenty-eight per cent is what makes public health researchers
jump up and down in joy - that's quite a big effect," he said.
"That's slashing your mortality risk by a
And there were benefits for those who didn't simply maintain,
but increased their activity levels over time.
"Even if they were completely inactive when they started, if
they manage to increase their activity level a little bit they
could reap benefits."
The findings build on a growing body of evidence that staying
active through middle age and beyond has serious health benefits,
said Wendy Brown of the University of Queensland, who was not
involved in the study.
Previous research by Professor Brown has shown
higher activity levels among older women were linked to extra years
of not needing help with daily activities.
"Once you get to 70 you're going downhill, whatever you do. But
if you start higher up the hill it'll take you a lot longer to
reach the bottom."
While people should do what they could to bump up their activity
levels to reap the health benefits, policy makers needed to play
their part too, Professor Brown said.
"We've got to focus on these middle-aged Australians because if
we don't, we're to be a big burden - I'm one of them - on the
health system in the next 10 years."