A late starter to exercise? You can still benefit

Physical activity improves longevity at any age.

A new study publised in the BMJ has found that getting active later in life can help you live longer — even if you haven’t exercised before.

The research out of the UK looked at more than 15,000 people over a 20-year period. Researchers assessed the participants for lifestyle and other risk factors at a baseline period and then also after 12 years. This was to measure what had changed in their fitness levels.

The measures of fitness included nutrition, body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol.

The study concluded that middle aged and older adults gain substantial longevity benefits — i.e. live longer — by becoming more physically active. Importantly, this was irrespective of how physically active a person was previously.

What’s more, even those with cardiovascular disease or cancer can benefit from exercise in terms of longevity.

“It’s like putting money in the bank,” said study co-author Soren Brage of the University of Cambridge.

“You invest in your future health and nothing is ever wasted but it’s also never too late.”

The study

In the study, the participants were divided into three groups in terms of physical activity: low, medium and high. These groups were based on the World Health Organization’s physical activity guidelines.

Those who maintained at least a medium level of activity — around 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week — had a 28 per cent lower risk of mortality compared to the low activity group.

“Twenty-eight per cent is what makes public health researchers jump up and down in joy — that’s quite a big effect,” said Dr. Brage.

“That’s slashing your mortality risk by a quarter.”

Furthermore, the study recommends that if people increase their physical activity levels to meeting the minimum public health recommendations, we could prevent around one in two deaths associated with inactivity.

Of course, these results don’t mean that physical activity isn’t still important all through life. We already know from previous research the many and varied benefits of exercise.

It does, however, mean that it’s never too late to get started and experience the positive results.


Mok, Alexander, et al (2019.) ‘Physical activity trajectories and mortality: population based cohort study.’ BMJ 2019; 365:l2323. (Published 26 June 2019)
doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l2323

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