Taking up exercise in middle age slashes your risk of an early death – even if you’ve been inactive your whole life, research suggests.
A study of nearly 15,000 Britons found those who exercised for two-and-a-half hours a week significantly cut their risk of dying in the next 13 years.
For those who were inactive previously, the risk of an early death went down by a quarter, scientists found.
But the benefits were greatest for those who already exercised and became even more active over time. Their risk of an early death plummeted by 42 per cent.
Taking up just two-and-a-half hours of exercise per week in your senior years slashes your risk of an early death even if you’ve been inactive your whole life
Researchers say the findings show that it’s never too late to get fit, even after a life of inactivity.
The NHS recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week, such as cycling, brisk walking, swimming or gardening.
But Public Health England says more than a third of English adults do not follow the advice.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge followed 14,599 men and women, all from Norfolk, for eight years to study how their activity levels fluctuated.
The team then monitored them over the following 13 years to see how the changes impacted their health.
During the study period, there were 3,148 deaths, including 950 from cardiovascular disease and 1,091 from cancer.
The authors, writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), said the findings give hope to the millions of middle-aged Britons who don’t get enough exercise.
Why not all sitting is bad
We’re often told that our couch potato lifestyles are leading us to an early grave.
But according to scientists, not all types of sitting are equally as bad for you.
A study found that, while slumping on the sofa in front of the telly led to health problems, sitting at work did not have the same effect.
US researchers looked at the habits of 3,500 people and compared it with their health. They found those who watched more than four hours of TV a day had a 50 per cent higher risk of heart disease and early death. But there was no difference between those who sat longest and sat least at work.
Happily, they found that moderate exercise can eliminate the harmful effects of slouching around.
Dr Keith Diaz, of Columbia University, said: ‘Taking a short break from the TV to go for a walk may be enough.’
They said: ‘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.
‘In addition to shifting the population towards meeting the minimum physical activity recommendations, public health efforts should also focus on the maintenance of physical activity levels, specifically preventing declines over mid to late life.’
June Davison, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘It’s never too late to get active; regardless of how little you have exercised in the past and whether or not you have heart disease.
‘The potential benefits of taking up regular physical activity in middle age and beyond are huge. Public health strategies need to focus on preventing the decline of physical activity in these age groups.
‘To keep your heart healthy, adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week. For some people, this might seem a lot, but it can be broken down into short 10-minute sessions throughout the day and these easily add up!
‘Walk to the shops instead of driving or take the stairs where possible and break up long periods of sitting, every half hour with five minutes of movement.’
MINIMUM EXERCISE GUIDELINES IN THE UK
According to the NHS, to stay healthy or improve health, to stay healthy, adults aged 19 to 64 should try to be active daily and should do:
– at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or brisk walking every week
– 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity such as running or a game of singles tennis every week
– a mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity every week – for example, 2 x 30-minute runs plus 30 minutes of brisk walking equates to 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity and
A good rule is that one minute of vigorous activity provides the same health benefits as two minutes of moderate activity.
One way to do your recommended 150 minutes of weekly physical activity is to do 30 minutes on 5 days every week.
All adults should also break up long periods of sitting with light activity.
What counts as moderate aerobic activity?
Examples of activities that require moderate effort for most people include:
– brisk walking
– water aerobics
– riding a bike on level ground or with few hills
– doubles tennis
– pushing a lawn mower