Live longer by staying active

The Introduction

live longThe research is conclusive. Those of us that exercise regularly will live longer and have a better quality of life to boot! However, very few studies have examined the effects of continuing, increasing, or decreasing physical activity levels on survival, functional ability, and health status among the very old. A recent Israeli study did exactly this and the results are even more astounding.

The Research

As part of the Jerusalem Longitudinal Cohort Study (1990-2008), the researchers followed 1,821 people born in 1920 and 1921 for 18 years, from ages 70 to 88. Participants were classified as active or sedentary based on self-reported physical activity, which included regular walking as well as vigorous exercise. Those reporting activity totaling less than four hours a week were labeled as sedentary. Participants were also grouped by whether their activity level changed over time. The research team examined health status, chronic disease incidence and death rates of the participants over the period.

The Results

Between ages 70 and 78, 27.2% of the sedentary group died, compared to 15.2% of the active group. From ages 78 to 85, 40.8% of sedentary participants died, compared to 26.1% of the active elderly. And from ages 85 to 88, 24.4% of the sedentary seniors died, versus just 6.8% of their physically active peers. Seniors who started physical activity between ages 70 and 78 and even between 78 and 85 improved their odds of survival. Physical activity also helped stave off the decline in the independent performance of functions of daily living with aging. Among active seniors, 33.3% saw a decline between ages 70 and 78, compared to 52.3% for the sedentary group.

 The So What?

The Israeli researchers concluded that “Not only was the effect of this [physical activity] benefit similar regardless of increasing age, but the magnitude of the difference between physically active and sedentary participants actually increased with advancing age.” The bottom line for we masters athletes – stay very active into older age and the older we get the more active we need to stay. As an 81-year-old I spoke to at the University gym said to me this morning – if I stop, I’ll die!!

 Stessman J, Hammerman-Rozenberg R, Cohen A, Ein-Mor E, Jacobs JM. (2009). Physical activity, function, and longevity among the very old. Archives of Internal Medicine. 169(16):1476-1483.