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BLOG: January 2010

 Physical activity benefits late-life health

Most anyone knows that physical activity benefits health. This view is supported by both, medical research and statistical data. Besides being in better overall shape, physically active individuals are much less likely to succumb to acute and chronic diseases, or to die prematurely.

But this is all applicable mainly in the context of an extended, ongoing activity. Are there any health benefits of it pouring over to the old age, when the level of activity inevitably diminishes?

Definitely, according to the study published this January in the Archives of Internal Medicine (Sun et al, Physical Activity at Midlife in Relation to Successful Survival in Women at Age 70 Years or Older, 2010). It focused on 13,535 women from the Nurse's Health Study who had no major chronic disease in 1986, and were 70y or over in the 1995-2001 period.

The authors were looking for those that qualify as successful survivors, with "successful survival" defined as:

no history of 10 major chronic diseases

no coronary artery bypass surgery

no physical impairment, and

no cognitive impairment or mental health limitations

That is a pretty impressive resume for 70+ years of age, that leaves little to be desired health-wise. After the data was adjusted for a number of variables, the authors extracted final figures, relating physical activity level during mid-life with the chances of being successful survivor at an older age.

It turned out that those in the highest quintile (1/5 of the total of participants with highest level of physical activity)

had the chances of being successful survivor doubled,

compared to the lowest quintile. Late-life benefit of physical activity at an earlier age showed clear trend up with increased level of activity.

Even an increased energy expenditure from walking alone was associated with about half as large health benefit. The difference, that could be a statistical aberration - or a reminder to avoid excesses - is that those in the 4th quintile benefited slightly more than 1/5 of the women than walked the most.

There is no reason to assume that men would fare much differently in this respect.

So - what are you waiting for? Do something!