Mental health for older people improved with exercise

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Exercise offers many benefits, even for people who develop a regular exercise program later in life.

Four years of sustained regular physical activity increases the likelihood of healthy aging sevenfold when compared with inactivity. A growing body of evidence suggests that regular physical activity is essential for maintenance of good health. Inactivity is associated with smoking, excess drinking and obesity, and is a leading cause of abbreviated life expectancy.

The impact on healthy aging

Researchers followed nearly 3,500 people with an average age of 64 for more than eight years. Participants described the frequency and intensity of their exercise programs from 2002 to 2003, and then every subsequent two years until 2011.

The researchers wanted to quantify the impact of physical activity on long-term health conditions like depression and dementia and how it impacted healthy aging. They defined healthy aging as good physical condition with an absence of disease, as well as good mental health with the preservation of cognitive abilities.

Responses about physical activity were categorized as inactive, moderately active or vigorously active. Health conditions were confirmed by medical record, and cognitive abilities were assessed by testing. During testing, nearly 10 percent of participants became active while 70 percent remained active the entire time. Others were inactive.

A direct link

While many developed a long-term health condition, depression, disability or cognitive impairment, 20 percent were defined as healthy agers. There was a direct link between healthy aging and the amount of exercise taken. Those who regularly participated in moderate to vigorous physical activity at least once a week were three to four times more likely to be healthy agers than participants who were inactive. Those who went from inactive to active were more than three times as likely to become healthy agers as well.

"This study supports public health initiatives designed to engage older adults in physical activity, even those who are of advanced age," the study authors concluded.

Sources: British Journal of Sports Medicine, MedicalNewsToday

 
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