MICHELLE SIMMONS–Men who played sports in their 40s and 50s are five times more likely to be fit and active into their late 70s than those who avoided sports, according to a study reported by The Daily Mail.
The results suggest early and sustained sports participation might help people to stay active as they get older.
For up to 20 years, researchers from the University College London studied the behavior of almost 3,500 men. They followed up on them after 12, 16, and 20 years — at which time there was a complete data for 3,414 men who were still alive.
The study, published in the online journal BMJ Open, showed that men who were active in midlife were nearly three times as likely to be still physically active 20 years later, after factors such as health problems were considered. Moreover, those who played sports such as football, cricket, and golf for 25 years or more were five times more likely to still be playing in their later life, even if only occasionally.
On the other hand, those who said they walked frequently rose from around 27 percent to 62 percent 20 years later, possibly because they had more time during their retirement.
The researchers found that men changed their preferences of activity as they get older, such as enjoying more recreational walking once they get to the retirement age. Sports remained the most stable activity, with just under half of men saying they played sports at least occasionally. “Early engagement in sports and structured exercise may be vital for developing the necessary motor skills needed to establish a lifelong habit for physical activity,” said Daniel Aggio, lead author of the study.
Aggio also said that it may be important to provide opportunities to take up other forms of activity during the transition to old age, such as walking.
The participants were all part of the British Regional Heart Study, which enrolled men from general practitioners’ lists in 24 towns in the United Kingdom between 1978 and 1980, when they were aged between 40 and 59. Each participant was tasked to answer a detailed questionnaire on their medical history and lifestyle, such as the amount and type of physical activity they did. This included walking, sports, exercise, and recreational activities like doing do-it-yourself (DIY), gardening, and chores.
The researchers suggested that one reason why sports helped people keep active in old age is that the enjoyment of people of sports may be more likely to persist into old age than preferences for other types of activity. They also said that sports participation in midlife may help in maintaining physical function and physical activity self-efficacy in later life, which will increase psychological and physical readiness for physical activity in old age.
Mike Knapton of the British Heart Foundation suggested that not only men but also women should be encouraged to build physical activity into their weekly routines as physical inactivity increases the risks of diseases and disabilities. (Related: Leading sedentary lifestyle just as deadly as smoking, say researchers)
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 60 to 85 percent of people in the world lead sedentary lifestyles, making it one of the more serious yet insufficiently addressed public health problems. Being physically inactive increases all causes of mortality, doubles the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity, and increases the risks of colon cancer, high blood pressure, and other diseases.
“By maintaining physical activity throughout your life, chances are that you will enjoy an active retirement,” Knapton said.
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