Starting to exercise in midlife can significantly lower the risk of premature death, equating the benefits of those who have been active since young. However, the advantages of exercise fade if the activity levels decrease over time. Research led by Dr. Pedro Saint-Maurice from the National Cancer Institute indicates that people in their 40s and 50s can still reap substantial health benefits by becoming physically active. This study looked at over 300,000 Americans, tracking their exercise habits from youth through middle age and correlating these with death records up to 2011.
Results showed that increasing physical activity to about seven hours per week by middle age could reduce the risk of death by about 35%, which is on par with those who have maintained similar levels of activity from a younger age. The protective effects were more pronounced for deaths related to cardiovascular disease than cancer. However, the benefits of exercise were not permanent; those who reduced their activity levels by middle age had the same risk of early death as those who had been inactive all along.
The study’s findings are based on self-reported data, which could be subject to recall bias and estimation errors, though the researchers did confirm the consistency of responses over time. The research focused solely on mortality and did not account for other health outcomes or non-leisure physical activity. Despite these limitations, experts like Dylan Thompson and Dr. Charlie Foster highlight the study’s positive message, emphasizing the lifelong importance of physical activity and strength exercises for health and the reduction of chronic diseases.
- Starting to exercise in midlife can significantly lower the risk of premature death, comparable to those who have been consistently active since youth.
- The health benefits of regular exercise are lost if the level of activity decreases notably by middle age.
- Despite potential inaccuracies due to self-reported data, the research emphasizes the importance of maintaining an active lifestyle throughout one’s life.
“If you maintain an active lifestyle or participate in some sort of exercise over this window of time [from youth to middle age], you can reduce your risk for dying,” said Dr Pedro Saint-Maurice, the lead author of the research, from the National Cancer Institute in the US.”