Even those becoming physically active relatively late in life can see reaping significant health benefits, according to research published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
The researchers found that four years of sustained regular physical activity boosted the likelihood of healthy ageing by seven times compared with consistent inactivity.
They monitored the health of almost 3500 people, with an average age of 64, for more than eight years in order to quantify the impact of physical activity on the risk of developing long-term conditions such as depression and dementia, and on the likelihood of it promoting “healthy ageing.”
This is usually taken to mean not only an absence of major disease and disability, but also good mental health, the preservation of cognitive abilities, and the ability to maintain social connections/activities.
There’s a growing body of evidence to suggest that regular physical activity is essential for the maintenance of good health, while across the developed world, inactivity is ranked alongside smoking, excess drinking and obesity as a leading cause of reduced life expectancy.
Nearly one in 10 of the sample became active with the remainder either inactive or becoming inactive.
At the end of the monitoring period almost four out of 10 had developed a long-term condition; almost one in five was depressed; a third had some level of disability; and one in five was cognitively impaired.
But one in five was defined as a “healthy ager” and there was a direct link to the likelihood of healthy ageing and the amount of exercise taken.
Those who had regularly indulged in moderate or vigorous physical activity at least once a week before the study, were three to four times more likely to be healthy agers than those who had remained inactive.
And those who became physically active during the study also reaped benefits, compared with those who did nothing and were more than three times as likely to be healthy agers.
And those who sustained regular physical activity over the entire period were seven times as likely to be healthy agers as those who had consistently remained inactive.
“This study supports public health initiatives designed to engage older adults in physical activity, even those who are of advanced age,” conclude the authors.