NEW YORK - It's never too late to start exercising, according to a new study that found formerly inactive seniors who took up exercise still experienced health benefits.
The study sheds light on the question of whether the slower mental and physical decline seen among active seniors extends to former couch potatoes who begin exercising later in life.
"Regular physical activity in older age is important to remain healthy. However, taking up physical activity at old age is also beneficial," Mark Hamer told Reuters Health in an email. He led the study at University College London.
These findings "underscore the importance of prevention as well as rehabilitation," said Ursula M. Staudinger, who directs the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center in New York City.
"When you start later in life you can still get gains," Staudinger, who was not part of the research team, said.
For their study, Hamer and his coauthors analysed information on 3,454 healthy seniors involved in the ongoing English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.
Participants reported how much they exercised at the start of the study, in 2002 to 2003. Researchers then followed them through regular health surveys for the next eight years.
At follow-up, 19 per cent of the seniors were considered to be aging healthily. That is, they had not developed any major chronic diseases or depression and had not experienced any deterioration in their physical or mental status during the study period.
Seniors who were active at least once a week at the start of the study and remained active were the most likely to experience healthy aging. But those who started exercising during the study period benefited as well, Hamer and his colleagues reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.