Meeting WHO physical activity guidelines increases quality of life in middle-aged women

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Key takeaways:

  • Women who consistently met WHO guidelines had a three-point higher physical health score vs. those who did not.
  • The findings support public health initiatives aimed at improving exercise in middle-aged women.

Adherence to physical activity guidelines throughout midlife was associated with greater health-related quality of life in women, even if adherence began later, a study showed.

WHO guidelines recommend 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity per week and muscle-strengthening activities 2 days a week for adults.

Women who consistently met WHO guidelines had a three-point higher physical health score vs. those who did not. Image: Adobe Stock

According to Binh Nguyen, PhD, a research fellow at the Sydney School of Public Health in Australia, and colleagues, prior studies on physical activity and health have typically focused on physical activity measures during a single point in time.

“Relying on a single static measure not only introduces measurement biases but also fails to answer an important question ‘what would happen if one starts to be physically active in later life?’” they wrote in PLOS Medicine. “The health outcomes of longitudinal patterns of meeting physical activity guidelines in women have seldom been explored.”

In the study, the researchers assessed associations between health-related quality of life (QoL) and physical activity guideline adherence among 11,336 women born between 1946 and 1951 who were enrolled in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health. The analysis included physical activity data that were collected every 3 years between 1996 and 2019.

The researchers assessed health-related QoL using the physical health composite score (PCS) and mental health composite score (MCS). Both scores ranged from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating higher physical and mental health.

Nguyen and colleagues found that PCS scores were higher among those who consistently met physical activity guidelines (PCS = 46.93; 95% CI, 46.32-47.54) and those who started to meet the guidelines upon reaching age 55 years (PCS = 46.96; 95% CI, 45.53-48.4) vs. those who did not meet the guidelines (PCS = 43.9; 95% CI, 42.79-45.01).

There was no significant difference in PCS among adults who started meeting guidelines at age 60 years or older compared with those who did not meet the guidelines. In addition, the researchers reported that physical activity was not significantly associated with MCS in any of the groups.

There were some limitations in the study, according to the researchers. For example, physical activity was self-reported, and the findings may not be generalizable to all middle-aged women.

Ultimately, “our findings suggest that to maintain good physical health-related [QoL] at around age 70, one may be able to ‘make up’ for not being active earlier by becoming active in the mid-50s,” Nguyen and colleagues wrote. “This finding supports public health initiatives for messaging around ‘turning back the clock’ in midlife through lifestyle changes such as physical activity.”

They added that the nonsignificant findings at age 60 years or later should not be interpreted as “the window opportunity being closed … but rather, that there had not been sufficient accumulation of physical activity for the health benefits to be evident by around age 70.”

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