It’s never too late in life to get active, says new research just published in the British Journal of Sports.
According to the findings of the study, if people kept active on a regular basis for as little as four years, they were seven times more likely to age in a healthy way compared to those who were sedentary.
About 3,500 people were tracked in the study for over eight years. The average age of the participants was 64. All of the study participants were part of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, a study which used a sampling representative of the English population born on or before February 29, 1952.
The researchers’ purpose in the study was to see how physical activity affected people’s risk of developing depression, dementia and other long-term conditions, as well as how likely the study participants were to go undergo healthy aging.
Healthy aging was defined as the absence of major disability and disease, as well as good mental health, retained cognitive abilities and the ability to maintain social connections and an active lifestyle.
The study participants were asked to describe how often and intensely they engaged in physical activity during two-year segments of time, starting with 2002-2003 and ending with 2010-2011.
Each person’s level of activity was then categorized as either inactive (no weekly moderate or vigorous activity); moderately active (moderate activity at least once a week); or vigorously active (vigorous activity at least once a week).
Changes in intensity and frequency of activity were noted at two annual monitoring sessions as either always active, became active, became inactive or always inactive.
Any sort of serious health condition such as Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease or stroke or diabetes was confirmed via medical records.
The study participants were administered tests in order to assess their mental health and cognitive abilities.
The researchers found when they analyzed the gathered data that almost 10 percent of the subjects studied became active and 70 percent remained active. The remainder either stayed inactive or became inactive.
By the end of monitoring, nearly 40 percent of the study participants had developed some sort of long-term health condition. About 20 percent were depressed. About one-third had some degree of disability. And, about 20 percent experienced cognitive impairment.
The good news, however, was that about 20 percent of the people studied met the definition for healthy aging. Also, there was a link between their chances of aging healthily and the amount of physical activity which they engaged in.
The researchers found that those who engaged in moderate or vigorous physical activity at least weekly were three to four times more likely to be healthy as they grew older than those who did not.
Even those who only became active after the study began gained benefits from their physical activity, the researchers say. They were three times more likely to remain healthy as they aged.
The group who benefited the most, however, were those who remained physically active throughout the entire study. These people were seven times more likely to undergo healthy aging than those who were not active at all.
Experts say that a good way for older adults to begin exercising is to start with walking and other gentle activities. Even those who have some level of disability can find ways to incorporate more activity in their lives by engaging in modified exercises which fit with their current level of ability.
Older individuals who may be avoiding exercise due to fears of falling may also find that they benefit from becoming more active. In fact, a recent analysis of 17 clinical trials found that older adults who are physically active are less likely to experience a bad fall.
The authors of the original study conclude that it is never too late for older adults to begin to be active, even if they are quite advanced in age, because it will benefit them both physically and mentally.
By Nancy Schimelpfening