The Athlete's Way

Sweat and the biology of bliss

What Daily Habit Can Boost “Healthy Aging” Odds Sevenfold?

Regular physical activity improves your odds of “healthy aging” by seven times.

A new study has found that regular physical activity later in life can boost the likelihood of “healthy aging” sevenfold. The study titled, “Taking Up Physical Activity in Later Life and Healthy Aging: the English Longitudinal Study of Aging” was published in November 2013 online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The researchers found that just 48 months (4 years) of sustained regular physical activity during each week had the power to boost the likelihood of healthy aging sevenfold compared with people who are consistently inactive.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

For the more than a decade, the British researchers have tracked the health of almost 3500 people, whose average age was 64. All participants in the English Longitudinal Study of aging were born on or before February 29, 1952.

The goal of the study was to quantify the impact regular physical activity had on the risk of developing long term conditions such as: depression, and dementia, and on the likelihood of "healthy aging." Inactivity is now ranked alongside smoking, excess drinking, and obesity as a leading cause of reduced life expectancy in developed countries.

Physical Activity Pays Huge Dividends in Terms of Healthy Aging

“Healthy aging” is not only an absence of major disease and disability. The researchers define “healthy aging” as "having good mental health, the preservation of cognitive abilities, and the ability to maintain social connections and regular sociable activities."

During the decade long study, participants were periodically assessed and put into three categories: 1. Inactive (no moderate or vigorous activity on a weekly basis) 2. Moderately active (at least once a week) 3. Vigorously active (at least once a week).

Then, the participants were subdivided into four categories based on patterns of behavior over the past decade: 1. Always inactive  2. Became inactive 3. Became active 4. Always active.

Based on these categories where would you rate yourself over the past 10 years? Hopefully, if you have always been inactive—or became inactive in recent years—this research will inspire you to start being more active and staying active for years to come.

Inactivity Robs You of Your Well-Being and Youthfulness

Unfortunately only about 10% of the participants became active, but of those who had always been active, 70% remained active. The rest remained inactive or became inactive.

In general, most people who stick with an exercise program for at least 8-weeks tend to stick with it for eternity. Not because of superhuman willpower, but because they realize how good they feel after they exercise and that "Sweat=Bliss."

Sadly, almost one in five of the inactive group was depressed; a third had some level of disability; and one in five was cognitively impaired.

At the end of the monitoring period, almost 40% of the inactive group had developed a long term condition. Serious ill health, such as heart disease/stroke, diabetes, emphysema, or Alzheimer's disease, were all confirmed by medical records.

Cognitive abilities and mental health were assessed using a battery of validated tests, while disability was measured according to participants' responses to questions about the ease with which they were able to carry out routine activities of daily living, and an objective test of walking speed.

Conclusion: Physical Activity Makes You Seven Times More Likely to Be a “Healthy Ager”

On a positive note, overall 20% of participants were defined as “healthy agers.” The researchers found a direct link to the likelihood of healthy aging and the amount of regular physical activity. Participants who exercised at a moderate or vigorous pace at least once a week were three to four times more likely to be healthy agers than those who were inactive. 

The researchers noted that participants who became moderately physically active were also more than three times likely to be healthy agers, compared with those who had always been inactive. Just a few minutes of physical activity most days of the week can make a huge difference in your well-being.

The most inspiring discovery of this study is that those who sustained regular physical activity for a 48 month period were seven times as likely to be healthy agers as those who had consistently remained inactive. This study supports the common sense and  public health initiatives designed to engage older adults in physical activity, even those who are of advanced age, the authors conclude. Hopefully, these findings will inspire you to start being more active ASAP.

My book, The Athlete’s Way: Training Your Mind and Body to Experience the Joy of Exerciseoffers a simple 8-week program to help people of all ages kick start a personalized exercise regimen for the long haul.

If you’d like to read more on this topic online please check out my Psychology Today blogs:

Please follow me on Twitter @ckbergland for updates on The Athlete’s Way blog posts.

Christopher Bergland is a world-class endurance athlete, coach, author, and political activist.

more...

Subscribe to The Athlete's Way

Current Issue

Dreams of Glory

Daydreaming: How the best ideas emerge from the ether.