Most doctors and researchers will agree that staying active in older age is one of the most important factors contributing to a longer, more independent and fulfilling life. But new research puts a finer point on the benefits of keeping physically fit as we age; it could double a 70-year-old’s chances of living past 80.
According to research from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, a brisk daily walk or bike ride can significantly increase longevity among older adults even with other risk factors for a shortened life span such as heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or smoking. The large scale study tracked more than 6,500 participants over the age of 70 for about 10 years. Those who were the most active were found to be twice as likely to be alive at 80 compared with those who were the least active.
The study is important because it demonstrates that physical fitness is a better predictor of future well-being for older adults than almost any other measure. The findings of the research suggest that doctors should screen patients for physical fitness and emphasize the importance of staying fit in older age. Not only does daily physical activity impact longevity, being active improves physical function and helps prevent muscle loss, can result in fewer falls and research indicates that exercise also improves cognition.
As with any new exercise program, it’s important to talk first with your doctor and start off slowly, gradually increasing the intensity and duration of exercise. It’s easy to find excuses not to make time for daily activity; try to schedule a time each day to walk with a friend in the neighborhood, on local trails or if it’s raining, at the mall. A stationary bicycle or treadmill can also help keep older adults fit during winter months without risking icy sidewalks. Download a podcast you have been wanting to listen to or start a new language program and you will be exercising your grey matter while keeping muscles strong and the heart healthy.
Read more about how fitness can influence lifespan in older age by following this link to a recent press release about the Johns Hopkins study, led by Seamus P. Whelton, on the American College of Cardiology website. The research was recently presented at the AAC’s Annual Scientific Session in New Orleans.