Background Physical activity is associated with improved overall health in those people who survive to older ages, otherwise conceptualised as healthy ageing. Previous studies have examined the effects of mid-life physical activity on healthy ageing, but not the effects of taking up activity later in life. We examined the association between physical activity and healthy ageing over 8 years of follow-up.
Methods Participants were 3454 initially disease-free men and women (aged 63.7±8.9 years at baseline) from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, a prospective study of community dwelling older adults. Self-reported physical activity was assessed at baseline (2002–2003) and through follow-up. Healthy ageing, assessed at 8 years of follow-up (2010-2011), was defined as those participants who survived without developing major chronic disease, depressive symptoms, physical or cognitive impairment.
Results At follow-up, 19.3% of the sample was defined as healthy ageing. In comparison with inactive participants, moderate (OR, 2.67, 95% CI 1.95 to 3.64), or vigorous activity (3.53, 2.54 to 4.89) at least once a week was associated with healthy ageing, after adjustment for age, sex, smoking, alcohol, marital status and wealth. Becoming active (multivariate adjusted, 3.37, 1.67 to 6.78) or remaining active (7.68, 4.18 to 14.09) was associated with healthy ageing in comparison with remaining inactive over follow-up.
Conclusions Sustained physical activity in older age is associated with improved overall health. Significant health benefits were even seen among participants who became physically active relatively late in life.
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