TORONTO – British scientists are giving seniors a reason to get active, even if they’re only starting to take up exercise in their golden years.
A new study that tracked the exercise habits of 64-year-olds for more than eight years found that those who exercised managed to achieve “healthy aging,” staving off major illnesses up to seven times more than their counterparts who weren’t working out.
Their findings suggest that four years of regular exercise is enough to reap the benefits of keeping away depression, disability and cognitive health problems.
“Healthy aging,” according to the researchers, includes keeping away chronic conditions, depression and dementia. While smoking, drinking and lack of exercise all work against healthy aging, the University College London scientists wanted to know if exercise especially in old age helped seniors in any way.
About 3,500 people, with an average age of 64, were tracked for more than eight years. They were all participants in the English Longitudinal Study of Aging.
Each year, the group was asked how often they worked out and at what intensity. Meanwhile, medical records tracked whether they’d developed heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease or diabetes.
Only one in 10 people in the sample became active while 70 per cent remained active, exercising at least once a week. The rest were either already inactive or became inactive.
By the end of the study, four out of 10 people had developed a long-term illness, one in five was depressed and one third had some level of disability. Another 20 per cent had cognitive impairment.
But one in five was defined as a “healthy ager,” and it was always the person who was exercising.
Even those who regularly exercised at least once a week were four times more likely to be a healthy ager than those who weren’t working out at all. But it was the group that was exercising over the entire period that was seven times more likely to be a healthy ager.
In Canada, Dr. Beth Abramson said she wasn’t surprised by the findings. She’s a Heart and Stroke Foundation spokeswoman, St. Michael’s Hospital cardiologist and author of the book Heart Health for Canadians.
“Healthy behaviour leads to longer lives. We can’t forget that it’s never too early or too late to make a heart healthy change,” she told Global News.
Abramson tells her patients, even if they’re middle-aged or older, that they don’t need to join the gym or put on their sneakers to get healthy. They can take on gardening, dancing, taking the stairs when they’re in a building or getting off the bus earlier for a longer walk.
Exercise reduces your risk of heart attack and stroke – it lowers blood pressure, cholesterol levels, risk of diabetes and our weight, which leads to other risk factors, Abramson said.
“Even if you’re a senior citizen, you can prevent the effects of aging by leading a healthier life. And a part of that is becoming active.”
The study was published Monday night in the British Medical Journal.