Physical Activity Correlates with a Reduced Impact of Aging in Later Life

The open access study noted here is one of many to show that greater levels of physical activity correlate well with a reduced risk of age-related disease. It isn’t possibly to reliably live to extreme old age on the back of a good exercise program, but that physical activity does reliably improve the odds of experiencing better rather than worse health in later life. Even small benefits can be worth chasing when they cost little and are reliably obtained, so long as that pursuit doesn’t distract from far more important initiatives. Exercise is beneficial, but it is no substitute for the rejuvenation therapies presently under development.

Successful aging has been defined as not suffering from chronic diseases, having optimal social engagement and mental health, and a lack of physical disability. Numerous studies have found that physical activity decreases the risk of many chronic diseases and increases longevity. However, the association between physical activity and successful aging has shown heterogeneity across studies. Some studies have shown either a lack of or a weak independent association between physical activity and successful aging; however, other cohort studies as well as systematic reviews have shown that higher levels of physical activity was associated with aging successfully.

Therefore, in our cohort study of 1,584 adults aged 49+ years at baseline we aimed to investigate whether total physical activity is independently associated with successful aging, which was defined as not experiencing disability and chronic disease (coronary artery disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer), having good mental health and functional independence, and reporting optimal physical, respiratory, and cognitive function during 10 years of follow-up. Participants provided information on the performance of moderate or vigorous activities and walking exercise and this was used to determine total metabolic equivalents (METs) minutes of activity per week.

Of the cohort, 249 (15.7%) participants had aged successfully 10 years later. Older adults in the highest level of total physical activity (more than 5000 MET minutes/week; n = 71) compared to those in the lowest level of total physical activity (less than 1000 MET minutes/week; n = 934) had 2-fold greater odds of aging successfully than normal aging. Our finding of a positive association between physical activity levels and successful aging is in agreement with the existing literature showing that physical activity might be an important parameter in enabling people to age successfully. Moreover, a systematic review found that the effect sizes for the association of successful or healthy aging with high levels of physical activity ranged from 1.27 to 3.09, which is in line with our observed estimate.


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