Becoming physically active in middle age reduces illness, disability later

The New York Times “Well” blog reports that according to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, “becoming physically active in middle age, even if someone has been sedentary for years, substantially reduces the likelihood that he or she will become seriously ill or physically disabled in retirement.”

The study found that “people who became active in middle-age after having been sedentary in prior years” experienced up to a “seven-fold reduction in their risk of becoming ill or infirm after eight years, compared with those who became or remained sedentary, even when the researchers took into account smoking, wealth and other factors.”

According to the Times story, “Being physically active during adulthood is particularly important. In one large-scale study published last fall that looked at more than 12,000 Australian men aged between 65 and 83, those who engaged in about 30 minutes of exercise five or so times per week were much healthier and less likely to be dead 11 years after the start of the study than those who were sedentary, even when the researchers adjusted for smoking habits, education, body mass index and other variables.”

The Times reports that these “results reaffirm both other science and common sense.” For example, “A noteworthy 2009 study of more than 2,000 middle-aged men … found that those who started to exercise after the age of 50 were far less likely to die during the next 35 years than those who were and remained sedentary. ‘The reduction in mortality associated with increased physical activity was similar to that associated with smoking cessation,’ the researchers concluded.”