Never too late to extend your life

A new study shows getting active in middle and old age – regardless of how active you were before – can help you live longer.

The study, which followed around 15,000 older men and women for more than 20 years, found that longevity increased with increased activity levels, regardless of initial activity levels or other factors such as diet, cholesterol, obesity or blood pressure levels prior to testing.

The findings show it’s never too late to start boosting your longevity with exercise.

“It’s like putting money in the bank,” said study co-author Soren Brage of the University of Cambridge.

“You invest in your future health and nothing is ever wasted but it’s also never too late.”

Dr Brage said people who maintained a medium level of activity – the equivalent of the World Health Organisation (WHO) minimum physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week – had a 28 per cent lower risk of dying 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,” said Dr Brage.

“That’s slashing your mortality risk by a quarter.”

And for those who increased their activity levels over time, there were even more benefits.

“Even if they were completely inactive when they started, if they manage to increase their activity level a little bit they could reap benefits,” he said.

And for those who think they are too hard-pressed for time to exercise, or for those who think they can wait until middle or old age to start exercising in order to reap these benefits, Dr Brage has a message.

“First of all you have to at least survive to old age. So you can’t just wait until you retire and then … start doing some exercise. That’s generally a bad strategy,” he said.

Wendy Brown of the University of Queensland agrees that staying active through middle age and beyond has positive health benefits.

“Once you get to 70 you’re going to be going downhill, whatever you do. But if you start higher up the hill it’ll take you a lot longer to reach the bottom,” she said.

She also says that these findings should influence policymakers to do more to encourage fitness in middle aged and older people.

“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.”

How much exercise do you do each week? Are you meeting the WHO medium guidelines?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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