It Is Never Too Late To Get Fit
Most individuals would agree that physical activity is good for overall health. Countless research studies have linked exercise with lower overall risk of cardiovascular and chronic disease. In fact, if the general population hit the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity in a week, there could be a 46% reduction in death associated with inactivity.2 Yet, how does this relationship between physical activity and healthy change over time? Is there an age where it’s too late to make a lasting impact on health? Can you still lower disease risk in old age by increasing movement?
According to a 2019 study, keeping physically active, or becoming more active in middle to older age is associated with overall lower risk of death regardless of an individual’s past level of activity or current health condition 1.
The study used data from nearly 15, 000 adults between the ages of 40-79 years of age. Over an average of 7.6 years, the participants were followed up 3 times to assess disease risk factors. From there, for another 12 and a half years, researched followed up on mortality.1
Activity was monitored using both physical activity questionnaires as well as movement and heart monitoring technology. Researchers controlled for both existing physical activity as well as weight, past medical history, blood pressure, and diet during the study.1
After controlling for the above factors, researchers found that those who exercised more or increased their exercise throughout the study, had a lower risk of death. When compared with people who stayed relatively inactive their whole life, those who increased activity later on in life had a lower risk of death from all causes, regardless of what their exercise history was. In other words, it’s not too late! Activity later on in life is still highly beneficial and has such a potent impact, that overall death rate decreases with increased activity.1 Those with a history of cardiovascular disease or cancer had similar results as healthy individuals. Those who were previously active, who then increased activity later on in life, had a 42% decreased risk of death, the most potent impact. Therefore, it is still best to get active as soon as possible, but possibly even more important, and more difficult; try to stay active as you age.
How can you stay active as you age?
-Find activities you like. Exercise doesn’t have to be running a marathon or lifting heavy weights at the gym. Exercise can include swimming, biking, yoga, dancing or Pilates. Brainstorm activities that bring you joy and see how you can incorporate more activity into them.
-Focus on overall movement throughout the day. One of the biggest influences of movement on our health is how much the body is moving throughout the day. If you exercise vigorously for 30 minutes a day but are sedentary for the other 23 and a half hours, your overall physical activity is not changing much. Try to focus on walking 10, 000 steps each day. This is an evidence-based target to ensure adequate movement.
-Join a group. Joining a group of individuals whether they are strangers, family or friends in an exercise goal can help inspire you and keep you accountable.
-Join an online program of classes. Joining an online or in person class can also increase accountability. It can also be helpful to have an instructor or teacher to guide you through an activity if you are new at it.
-Track your movement with technology. A recent 2021 study from the British Journal of Sport Medicine found that tracking physical activity can increase overall movement throughout the day.2 Those who tracked their physical activity had an average of 1850 more steps than those who did not track their activity in the study. Fitness trackers include brands such as Fit Bit, Oura Ring, Whoop, Apple Watch, iPhone, or a simple step counter.
-Ask for help. Starting out on your fitness journey late in life? There are several resources both in person and online.
Whatever it is you do to increase your activity, exercising later on in your life can not only decrease your overall risk of death but increase how you feel each day. Exercising releases endorphins which can help to decrease pain, increase mood and reduce stress hormones.
Please be careful when starting out exercising or encouraging loved ones to start exercising, there are risks associated with exercise such as muscle strain and falling. Please consult a trained professional if you are just starting out on your exercise journey.
- Mok A, Khaw KT, Luben R, Wareham N, Brage S. Physical activity trajectories and mortality: population based cohort study. Bmj. 2019 Jun 26;365.
- Laranjo L, Ding D, Heleno B, Kocaballi B, Quiroz JC, Tong HL, Chahwan B, Neves AL, Gabarron E, Dao KP, Rodrigues D. Do smartphone applications and activity trackers increase physical activity in adults? Systematic review, meta-analysis and metaregression. British journal of sports medicine. 2021 Apr 1;55(8):422-32.