It’s never too late to get fit

Exercise is key to happy and healthy old age according to the latest research. So what are you waiting for?

Those who are active as pensioners can stave off major illnesses such as heart disease and dementia.

An eight-year British study found that those who exercised at least once a week were between three and seven times more likely to be classed as “healthy agers”.

Researchers say being active is the key to preventing serious disease and disability. Regular exercise also bolsters mental health by protecting against depression. Doireann Maddock, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This shows us that even if you don’t become active until later in life your health will benefit.

“However, there’s no need to wait until retirement to get started. Adults should try to be active daily and aim for 150 minutes of activities that get you breathing harder and feeling warmer each week.

“Every 10 minutes counts, so even hopping off the bus a couple of stops early or taking a brisk walk on your lunch break will help.”

150 minutes working out a week is recommended

The researchers, led by Dr Mark Hamer at University College London, wrote: “Sustained physical activity was associated with improved healthy ageing – absence of disease, freedom from disability, high cognitive and physical functioning, good mental health.

“Significant health benefits were even seen among participants who became active relatively late in life.

“The results support public health initiatives designed to engage older adults in physical activity.”

The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, tracked 3,500 people with an average age of 64 for more than eight years. Researchers were looking not only at the absence of major disease or disability, but at mental health.

This included cognitive dexterity and the ability to maintain social connections and activities.

The findings add to a growing body of evidence to suggest that regular physical activity is essential for maintaining good health as the country’s population ages.

Across the developed world, doctors rank inactivity alongside smoking, excess drinking and obesity as a leading cause of reduced life expectancy.

In the latest study, participants answered detailed questions every two years about the frequency and intensity of their physical activity.

Researchers also performed a battery of cognitive tests.

Doctors ranked inactivity alongside smoking, excess drinking and obesity

Seven out of 10 people who had been active at the start of the study remained so while nearly one in 10 took up regular exercise.

The rest remained inactive or became inactive.

By the end of the study almost four out of 10 had developed a long-term condition while almost two in 10 was depressed.

Meanwhile, a third had some level of disability and two in 10 suffered a cognitive impairment.

The researchers concluded that nearly one in five (19.3 per cent) could be classed as “healthy agers”.

There was a direct link to the amount of exercise taken. After four years of regular activity, people are three times more likely to age healthily. After eight years this was seven times as likely.

Scientific research across the world has consistently hailed the benefits of keeping fit in old age.

Last year a study showed that women who have an active lifestyle can increase life expectancy by five years.

For men, it was six years.

Figures released by the Office For National Statistics also revealed that Britons are living longer than ever before – and can expect to spend more than 80 per cent of our lives in good health.

Regular exercise protects against depression

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