If you are close to resigning your fate to a painful late-life rife with weakened muscles, creaking joints, an unreliable heart and weight-related problems, a recent study is offering you both hope and encouragement to put on your running shoes again if you have been putting away exercise for too long and is starting to regret.
If you, even when you have not worked out for years, restart your engines during your midlife years, you can quickly reap most the benefits to your lifespan down the line. What’s more, you can stay in shape and age gracefully into your later years!
However, the reverse is also applicable—stop exercising and your gains will evaporate.
Exercise and Longevity
There are already more than sufficient compelling evidence that exercise and physical activity affect how long and how well you will live. There had even been studies that show older folks who have been upkeeping their exercise lifestyle develop and retain their bone density, muscular strength, immune system and brain and heart health than their peers who are sedentary.
On a wider scale, studies have also pinned a lifestyle of frequent exercise can prolong one’s lifespan, underscoring that people who stay active are much less likely to die prematurely than those who rarely put on their running shoes.
However, most of these studies only looked into people’s lives once in their lifetimes and rarely studied what happens when one makes changes to the frequency of his/her exercise regime over the decades.
For this new study published in JAMA Network Open, researchers looked at data collected by the NIH-AARP Diet And Health Study in the United States which had been following up on how people use their leisure time. The study started more than 20 years ago in 1995, employing both men and women participants in the hundreds of thousands between the ages of 50 and 71, requiring them to complete questionnaires relating to their health. One of the questionnaires delved into details about their physical activities over the course of their lives by asking about how often they had walked, played sports, went for a jog or other exercises, focusing on deliberate exercise and incidental physical activities like household chores. It covered almost every point of their lives, from their teen years to young adulthood, fuller adulthood and, finally, when the volunteers are between 40 and 61.
The researchers used the records 315,059 of men and women, most of whom had done their questionnaires about 13 years ago. They examined their answers and grouped the subjects according to their exercise habits, whether there were changes to their exercise lifestyles and if so, how had they changed over the years. Some of the subjects declared that there had not been significant changes to their routines, steadfastly spending about as many hours exercising in their midlife as when they were younger. Others had been active when they were younger but their routines tapered off as they grew older and became sedentary during middle age. A few had exercised frequently in their younger years, slowed down or stopped as adults, but restarted their regular exercise later in life.
Finally, the researchers looked at the National Death Index for deaths and the causes among the participants to compare the risks of death among the groups. Unsurprisingly, those sedentary men and women were the most likely now to have passed away, and from heart disease, in particular.
On the other hand, the active group of people who have been exercising consistently for a couple of hours weekly were 40 per cent less likely to have died of cardiovascular disease and between 30 per cent to 35 per cent less likely to have died from any other cause than the sedentary. Also, people who had ceased exercising for decades but restarted again in their 40s or 50s by working out for a few hours weekly shared relatively similar statistics as the active group on premature death.
On the flip side, though, people who were once active in their earlier years but became sedentary later on seemed to have lost the benefits they once enjoyed, becoming as likely as the sedentary group to die prematurely.
It is important to note that the study had relied on people to recall their past behaviours, which can be an unreliable source of data. The data derived was also based on observations; while it can tell us that exercising in middle age can reap a longer life, it does not say whether exercise is indeed the reason why we live longer. Other factors such as our diets, weight, wealth, general health and genes are likely factors as well.
Get Cracking and Stop Slacking
Nonetheless, the message of the study’s findings is that if you are active currently, stay being active no matter your age, and if you have been sedentary, it is never too late to get your engines hot and running and start exercising to reap the gains in longevity.