It's never too late to start exercising,
according to a new study that found formerly inactive seniors who took up
exercise still experienced health benefits.
The study sheds light on the question of
whether the slower mental and physical decline seen among active seniors
extends to former couch potatoes who begin exercising later in
life."Regular physical activity in older age is important to remain
However, taking up physical activity at old
age is also beneficial," Mark Hamer told Reuters Health in an e-mail. He
led the study at University College London.
These findings "underscore the
importance of prevention as well as rehabilitation," said Ursula M Staudinger,
who directs the Robert N Butler Columbia Ageing Centre in New York
City. "When you start later in life you can still get gains,"
Staudinger, who was not part of the research team, said.
Regular health surveys
For their study, Hamer and his co-authors
analysed information on 3 454 healthy seniors involved in the ongoing English
Longitudinal Study of Ageing.
Participants reported how much they
exercised at the start of the study, in 2002 to 2003. Researchers then followed
them through regular health surveys for the next eight years.
At follow-up, 19% of the seniors were
considered to be ageing healthily. That is, they had not developed any major
chronic diseases or depression and had not experienced any deterioration in
their physical or mental status during the study period.
Public health initiatives
Seniors who were active at least once a
week at the start of the study and remained active were the most likely to
experience healthy aging. But those who started exercising during the study
period benefited as well, Hamer and his colleagues reported in the British
Journal of Sports Medicine.
People who remained active during all eight
years were over seven times more likely to experience healthy ageing than
inactive seniors. Those who became active after the study started were three
times more likely than inactive adults to age well.
That was after the researchers took into
consideration other factors that might influence healthy ageing like
participants' gender, income and whether they smoked or were married. "The
results appear to suggest that maintaining or beginning any form of regular
activity is beneficial," the researchers wrote. Further, they added,
"this study supports public health initiatives designed to engage older
adults in physical activity, even those who are of advanced age." "The
ageing population continues to grow," Hamer said.
"Physical activity will help the
elderly to remain healthy." The findings cannot prove exercise warded off
disease among study participants, just that it was correlated with healthy
"We have to say goodbye to this notion
that the chronological age on our passport or our birth certificate will tell
us how old we are," Staudinger told Reuters Health. "Healthy ageing is
happening on a societal level and each individual can contribute," she said,
noting that "physical activity is one important instrument." However,
Staudinger cautioned, "with physical fitness as with cognitive fitness, if
you stop working on it, it will drop again."