High levels of exercise reduce chronic disease risk

Exercising above recommended levels is beneficial for older adults, study finds.

New research from the University of Sydney has found that high levels of exercise may reduce the risk of chronic disease.

Australia has an aging population and researchers believe a focus on exercising throughout life is a beneficial way to increase not only the quality of life but also living a longer, healthier one.

The researchers believe their findings demonstrate how important it is to make sure physical activity is promoted for older adults in the community.

The study

The participants were more than 1,500 Australians over the age of 50.

Researchers from Westmead Institute for Medical Research used data compiled from the Blue Mountains Eye Study, one of the world’s largest epidemiology studies. The Blue Mountains Eye Study, starting in 1992, compared diet and lifestyle factors to later health outcomes.The researchers in the current study followed the progress of these participants over a 10 –tear period.

All participants were disease-free at their initial interview.

The results

The results showed that those who engaged in the highest levels of physical activity were twice as likely to avoid chronic illnesses such as stroke, heart disease, angina, cancer and diabetes.

In addition, these high-exercise participants were also in better physical and mental shape.
“Essentially, we found that older adults who did the most exercise were twice as likely to be disease-free and fully functional,” said Associate Professor Bamini Gopinath, the lead researcher.

“Our study showed that high levels of physical activity increase the likelihood of surviving an extra 10 years free from chronic diseases, mental impairment and disability.”

The study concluded that “a higher level of physical activity increases the likelihood of surviving an additional 10 years free of chronic diseases, cognitive impairment and functional disability.”

In terms of numbers, adults who did more than 5000 metabolic equivalent minutes (METs) saw the greatest benefit. This is above the current World Health Organization recommendation of 600 METs. 600 METs is equivalent to a 75-minute run or a150 minutes of brisk walking.

“Our findings suggest that physical activity levels need to be several times higher than what the World Health Organization currently recommends to significantly reduce the risk of chronic disease,” said Professor Gopinath.

“Some older adults may not be able to engage in vigorous activity or high levels of physical activity. But we encourage older adults who are inactive to do some physical activity, and those who currently only engage in moderate exercise to incorporate more vigorous activity where possible.”


Gopinath, B. et al (2018.) ‘Physical Activity as a Determinant of Successful Aging over Ten Years.’ Scientific Reports, Volume 8, Article number: 10522 (2018).

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