It’s good to stay active throughout life but adopting healthy choices in adulthood has significant benefits, based on a recent study that links increased physical activity in middle age to reduced risk of death. Findings were published in JAMA Network Open and confirm that it’s never too late to get moving.
Using data from retired AARP members, this study looked at the impact of physical activity on mortality risk throughout different stages in life. The goal was to see how much continued activity from adolescence through older age reduces risk of death. Researchers also hoped to look at survival rates among adults who were inactive but increased physical activity later in life.
The good news, based on findings, is that both pathways can add years to your life.
The recent analysis included 315,059 participants in the National Institutes of Health–AARP Diet and Health Study. Through the study, participants completed surveys about their health and lifestyle in 1995 and 1996. Surveys included questions on current physical activity level and how active participants were earlier in life.
Participants were 50 to 71 years of age at enrollment and came from eight U.S. states, including California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Michigan.
After following participants through 2018, researchers found that participants who maintained the highest amount of leisure-time physical activity throughout their life had 36% lower risk of death compared to those who were inactive all throughout life. Consistently active adults also had 42% lower risk of heart-related death and 14% lower risk of death from cancer.
Findings are not entirely surprising, as studies have shown that physical activity improves health and increases longevity. What is encouraging, however, is that adults who weren’t active until later in life had nearly identical reductions in mortality risk compared to adults who were always active.
Analysis showed that adults who were inactive but increased activity between the ages of 40 and 61 had 35% lower risk of death, 43% lower risk of heart-related death and 16% lower risk of cancer-related death than adults who remained inactive.
As authors note, it’s ideal for individuals to stay active from childhood all the way through adulthood and older age. That means getting at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes a week of vigorous activity, based on current guidelines.
However, findings suggest that making changes even in your 50s and early 60s could help add years to your life. Of course, it’s important to check with your doctor before starting any type of new physical activity, especially if you have existing medical conditions. But for most adults, regular physical activity like walking or doing yardwork is considered safe and can help improve both quality of life and overall health.