Being physically fit in your middle years (30s, 40s and 50s) extends your lifespan. And new research suggests it also increases the odds of your aging in good health, free from chronic illness.
Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center and The Cooper Institute analyzed the medical records of 18,670 study participants over a 40-year span. The data followed them later in life, from ages 70 to 85, through Medicare claims. The patients who increased their fitness levels by 20 percent in their midlife years decreased their chances of developing chronic diseases – including congestive heart failure, Alzheimer’s disease and colon cancer – decades later by 20 percent!
The researchers reported this positive effect continued until the end of life, with more-fit individuals living their final five years of life with fewer chronic diseases. The effects were the same in both men and women.
Being physically active is vital to maintaining health and independence as we age, and a new federal campaign for people 50 and older will help them to get active and keep going. The Go4Life campaign, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), encourages sedentary older adults to reap health benefits by making physical activity part of their daily lives.
The campaign developed from concerns that, despite proven health benefits, exercise and physical activity rates among older people are low. About 30 percent of people aged 45–64 say they engage in regular leisure-time physical activity. Only a quarter of those ages 65–74 say they do. And while experts say people age 85 and older, can benefit from exercise, only 11 percent of that age group report being active.
Among the specific benefits of exercise for health and aging:
- Fitness and cardiorespiratory health: In one study, moderately fit women and men had a 50 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, obesity, and some cancers when compared with their low fit peers. High fit people obtained additional benefit, typically another 10-15 percent lower risk.
- Reduce joint pain: In a clinical trial of people age 60 and older with knee osteoarthritis, those who participated in an aerobic exercise or resistance exercise program reported less pain and better function than those in the group assigned to a health education program.
- Preventing diabetes: Results from the NIH-sponsored Diabetes Prevention Program, which examines ways to prevent or delay the development of non-insulin-dependent diabetes, found that people over age 60 at high risk for diabetes reduced their risk by 71 percent by adopting a moderate exercise routine and a low-fat diet.
What’s your advice for maintaining fitness in midlife?