Moving Toward Healthier Aging

Physical activity in older age can improve the odds of healthy aging

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) It's no secret that regular physical activity can contribute to being healthy as you age. But many might not realize that it's never too late to start.

A recent study found that seniors who remained physically active at least once a week were more likely to remain healthy into their older age.

Even seniors who became active after not regularly exercising had greater odds of being healthy eight years later.

Aging healthily meant not developing any chronic disease, depression or impairments in participants' physical or cognitive health.

Getting physical activity just once a week more than doubled the odds that seniors would be healthy almost a decade later.

"Include physical activity in your daily routine."

This study, led by Mark Hamer, PhD, of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London in the United Kingdom, looked at the effects of increasing physical activity in individuals' senior years.

These researchers followed 3,454 men and women, with an average age of 64, over approximately eight years.

At the start of the study in 2002 and 2003 and through the end of it, the participants reported their weekly physical activity.

The participants were classified as being inactive, getting moderate physical activity at least once a week or getting vigorous physical activity at least once a week.

At the follow-up in 2010-2011, the researchers assessed which participants had developed any major chronic disease conditions, symptoms of depression or physical or cognitive impairments.

The researchers next compared the amount of physical activity that participants got to how healthily they had aged based on whether they had developed any of those negative health conditions.

At the follow-up for the study, 19 percent of the participants were classified as having aged healthily (not showing any chronic disease, depression or physical or cognitive problems).

In analyzing the relationship between physical activity and healthy aging, the researchers took into account differences among the participants that might also have affected their health.

These differences included their age, their sex, whether they smoked, their alcohol consumption, their marital status and their income level.

The participants who got moderate physical activity at least once a week had 2.7 times greater odds of being healthy at follow-up than those who were inactive.

The benefits for vigorous exercise were even greater. Those who participated in vigorous exercise at least once a week had 3.5 times greater odds of being healthy at follow-up, compared to the inactive participants.

Those participants who had always been active had a greater likelihood of being healthy, but even those who started exercising later in life saw improved odds for their health.

Those who had been active and stayed active through follow-up had 7.7 times greater odds of being healthy compared to inactive participants.

Meanwhile those who became active during the course of the study — even if they hadn't been before — had 3.4 times greater odds than inactive participants of being healthy at follow-up.

"Sustained physical activity in older age is associated with improved overall health," the researchers wrote. "Significant health benefits were even seen among participants who became physically active relatively late in life."

Jack Newman, CEO of Austin Tennis Academy and a dailyRx expert, said the findings of this study match up with what he has observed in his experience.

"Our own anecdotal evidence of over 30 years of coaching the sport of a lifetime at the Austin Tennis Academy backs up this study," Newman said.

"Teens, middle-age boomers and seniors can live a healthier and better life through exercise," he said. "It's never too late to start exercising."

This study was published November 25 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The research was funded by the National Institute of Aging and a group of UK government departments coordinated through the Office for National Statistics.

Other than funding from the British Heart Foundation and other governments' health agencies, the researchers reported no potential conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
November 26, 2013
Last Updated:
December 3, 2013