It’s truly never too late to begin exercising.
New research suggests that increasing activity in your 40s and 50s lowers risk of early death just like staying fit from teens.
Even for people who were “couch potatoes” in their youth, embarking on a regimen of regular exercise in middle-age can still greatly cut the odds for death from any cause, the new study finds.
Most research hasn’t been designed to answer the question – is it too late to start exercising – since exercise studies typically record people’s physical activity levels at one point in time: in youth, middle-age or beyond. But Pedro Saint-Maurice, a postdoctoral fellow at the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and his colleagues wanted to find out whether exercise’s benefits changed if people remained active for most of their lives, or if, like most of us, they waxed and waned in sticking to their exercise regimen over their lifetimes.
The study, published in the journal Jama Network Open, tracked the health – and lifetime exercise patterns – of more than 315,000 Americans aged 50-71.
The investigators found that folks who’d exercised all their lives had a 36 per cent lower risk of dying during the study period, compared to people who’d never exercised.
But, perhaps surprisingly, people who’d been inactive in youth but decided to get more physical in their 40s and 50s saw almost the same decline – 35 per cent – in their odds for an early death.
“If you are not active and you get to your 40s-50s and you decide to become active, you can still enjoy a lot of those benefits,” says Dr Saint-Maurice.
Most of the people in the study who were exercising were getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week. Research shows that physical activity doesn’t have to occur in big chunks; even small amounts can add up.
“It’s a great message,” says Dr Saint-Maurice, “to know that it’s not too late if you haven’t been on the right exercise trajectory.”