An elderly person exercising

Staying physically active during middle and older age is connected to a lower risk of death regardless of past activity levels or existing health conditions, a new study has revealed.

The research published by the British Medical Journal analysed how long term changes in physical activity are associated with risk of all-cause, cardiovascular and cancer deaths.

In the study, a data of 14,599 men and women aged 40-79 who were recruited between 1993-1997 was used.

The participants were assessed at the start of the study and then a further three times over an average of 7.6 years, along with other risk factors up to 2004. From this point in time, mortality was assessed up to 2016, for an average of 12.5 years of follow-up.

Overall physical activity included activity at work for instance, sedentary office work, standing work, physical and heavy manual work and leisure-time activity, such as cycling, sports and recreational activities.

During the study period, there were 3,148 deaths, including 950 deaths from cardiovascular disease and 1,091 deaths from cancer.

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After controlling for existing physical activity and other risk factors such as diet, bodyweight, medical history, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, higher physical activity levels and increases in physical activity over time were associated with a lower risk of death.

Further, the results found that inactive people who became more active over time had a lower risk of death from all causes, regardless of past activity levels.

But the benefits were greatest for those with existing high levels of physical activity who became even more active over time, with a 42 percent lower risk of mortality.

Previous studies have linked physical activity to lower risk of death, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers. But few studies have looked at how changes in physical activity over time are associated with subsequent risk of death.

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“These results are encouraging, not least for middle aged and older adults with existing cardiovascular disease and cancer, who can still gain substantial longevity benefits by becoming more active, lending further support to the broad public health benefits of physical activity,” the researchers from University of Cambridge wrote.


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