Regular physical activity in later life increases the chances of ageing healthily sevenfold, researchers have discovered.
Research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine has revealed that even those starting late with exercise gain significant health benefits.
Scientists from University College London tracked the health of almost 3,500 people whose average age was 64, for more than eight years.
Participants described how often and intense their physical activity was in 2002/3 and then every two years until 2010/11.
Any changes in frequency and intensity were noted at the two yearly monitoring sessions: always inactive; became inactive; became active; always active.
Serious ill health, such as heart disease/stroke, diabetes, emphysema, or Alzheimer’s disease, was confirmed by medical records.
Nearly one in 10 of the sample became active and 70% remained active. The rest remained inactive or became 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 were three to four times more likely to be healthy agers than those who had remained inactive, after taking account of other influential factors.
Participants who became physically active also reaped benefits, compared with those who did nothing. They were more than three times as likely to be healthy agers.
And participants who sustained regular physical activity over the entire period were seven times as likely to be healthy agers.
The researchers said: “This study supports public health initiatives designed to engage older adults in physical activity, even those who are of advanced age.”