A new study finds that regular physical activity later in life boosts the likelihood of healthy aging up to sevenfold. What’s more, the findings, published yesterday in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, show that it’s never too late to start.
“Significant health benefits were even seen among participants who became physically active relatively late in life,” wrote the study authors, led by Mark Hamer of the University of London.
Researchers tracked the health of almost 3,500 people, average age 64, for more than eight years. All were participants in the large, long-running English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, which involves a nationally representative sample, born before 1952, of the population of England.
What is healthy aging? It means avoiding major disease and disability but also having good mental health, a sharp memory, a healthy brain and the ability to keep up with friends and social activities. In other words, the type of old age we all hope to have.
Here’s what the researchers found:
- Those who exercised at least once a week were three to four times more likely to age healthfully than those who remained inactive.
- Those who started exercising during the study period were more than three times as likely as those who stayed on the couch to age healthfully.
- Those who kept up regular physical activity over the entire period were seven times as likely to age healthfully as those who had consistently remained inactive.
Although a number of large, important studies have also found a link between physical activity and good health, this is one of the first to track whether those who started exercising later in life also reaped health benefits. The British study authors write about a “dose-response association between physical activity and healthy aging.” American translation: The more you get off your butt, the better off you are.
So go ahead and enjoy that leftover ham and sweet potato souffle, but afterward, take a nice walk with the family. You all can go looking for the best decorated houses on the block and rate them. Or walk to the park and maybe have a light game of tennis with the grandchildren.