Live Longer With Midlife Exercise
Study Shows Middle Age Is Not Too Late to Start Exercising to Prolong Your Life
WebMD News Archive
March 5, 2009 -- It ain't over till it's over, Yogi Berra would say.
Scientists might put it this way, though: In terms of your life span, it really
does matter that you start exercising, quit the couch-potato
habit, and give up smoking.
But even if you don't get started until middle age or later, you can prolong
your life, a new study shows. Of course, it's better to quit bad habits and
start good ones early, but middle age is not too late, say researchers at
Uppsala University in Sweden.
They gathered data from 2,205 men aged 50 in 1970-1973, all completing
surveys about leisure-time physical activity; the men were categorized as low-,
medium- or high-activity types.
The men were examined again at age 60, 70, 77, and 82; changes in physical
activity were recorded. Researchers also jotted down data on blood pressure, cholesterol levels, smoking
status, alcohol use, and body mass index (BMI) at each
The researchers also looked into the effect of changed physical activity
between the times they were checked at age 50 and 60.
At age 50, nearly half of the men claimed a high level of physical activity,
that is, at least three hours of recreational sports or heavy gardening per
week. Thirty-six percent reported medium activity, amounting to walking and cycling; 15% were
categorized as sedentary.
In the long run, the mortality rates were highest among the sedentary men,
and lowest among the most active.
After 10 years, however, the mortality rate in the men who'd increased their
activity had fallen to the same level as the ones who'd maintained high levels
of physical fitness the whole time, the researchers say.
The benefit for the late starters was on par with quitting smoking.
However, during the first five years of follow-up, the mortality rate was
higher in men who had increased their level of physical activity than in men
with unchanged high physical activity, but the number of such deaths was
"Given the small numbers of deaths we are reluctant to place a strong
emphasis on this increased risk, especially as mortality was not higher than
mortality in men who continued to be sedentary," the researchers write.
The researchers say that after adjusting for other risk factors, men who
reported high levels of physical activity from age 50 on were expected to live
2.3 years longer than the sedentary individuals, and 1.1 years longer than the
men who'd originally reported medium physical activity.
Increased physical activity prolongs life in middle-aged men after "an
induction period" of up to 10 years, the study says.
The study is published in BMJ online.