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Good News About Exercise: It's Never too Late to Start

Need inspiration to head out to that Turkey Trot in the frightful weather? A new study finds that regular physical activity later in life boosts the likelihood of healthy aging up to sevenfold. What's more, the findings, published yesterday in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, show that it's never too late to start.

"Significant health benefits were even seen among participants who became physically active relatively late in life," wrote the study authors, led by Mark Hamer of the University of London.

Researchers tracked the health of almost 3,500 people, average age 64, for more than eight years. All were participants in the large, long-running English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, which involves a nationally representative sample, born before 1952, of the  population of England.

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What is healthy aging? It means avoiding major disease and disability but also having good mental health, a sharp memory, a  healthy brain and the ability to keep up with friends and social activities. In other words, the type of old age we all hope to have.

Here's what the researchers found:

  • Those who exercised at least once a week were three to four times more likely to age healthfully than those who remained inactive.
  • Those who started exercising during the study period were more than three times as likely as those who stayed on the couch to age healthfully.
  • Those who kept up regular physical activity over the entire period were seven times as likely to age healthfully as those who had consistently remained inactive.

Although a number of large, important studies have also found a link between physical activity and good health, this is one of the first to track whether those who started exercising later in life also reaped health benefits. The British study authors write about a "dose-response association between physical activity and healthy aging." American translation: The more you get off your butt, the better off you are.

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So go ahead and enjoy that turkey with all the fixins', but take that post-pie walk or even that pre-bird run. Before digging into the the turkey and bourbon chocolate pecan pie, I'll be running (well, jogging) with 10 friends and relatives and thousands of others in the Thanksgiving Day Trot for Hunger to raise money for Washington D.C.'s SOME (So Others Might Eat). If you're in town, come join us!

Photo: Derek Parks

Staying Sharp: Keep Your Brain Healthy





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