Light exercise 'helps older men live longer'


20th February 2018 – When it comes to getting enough exercise, older men should concentrate on sitting less and moving more to lower their risk of dying prematurely, researchers say.

A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine says men in their 40s and 50s accumulate some health benefits from light intensity exercise, even if they don’t have the time or inclination to get the full 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity activity that guidelines recommend.

The research team, led by University College London, say their findings could help make the guidelines more achievable for older adults.

Getting enough exercise

These guidelines currently say that adults aged up to 64 should:

  • Take part in moderate intensity activities for at least 150 minutes (2½ hours) a week in bouts of 10 minutes or more
  • Alternatively, comparable benefits can be achieved through 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity spread across the week, or combinations of moderate and vigorous intensity activity
  • Take part in muscle strengthening exercises on at least 2 days a week
  • Minimise the amount of time spent being sitting for extended periods

The researchers say this pattern of exercise is particularly difficult for older men to achieve and they set out to assess how people in this age group could use exercise to stay healthy.

Health study

They looked at data from 7,735 men recruited from 24 GP practices in the late 1970s when they were aged between 40 and 59.

The 3,137 men who were still alive in 2010-12 were invited for a health check-up, which included a physical examination, and asked about their lifestyle, sleeping patterns, and whether they had ever been diagnosed with heart disease.

Around half the men agreed to wear an accelerometer to track their activity levels during waking hours for a week and data was available for 1,181 of the men who had no pre-existing cardiovascular disease at the outset and who were by then aged 78 on average.

The researchers report that any amount of physical activity, including light exercise, was linked to a lower risk of dying.

Also, each extra 30 minutes a day of light intensity activity, such as gentle gardening or taking the dog for a walk, was associated with a 17% reduction in the risk of dying.

The researchers say that although these men might have doubled their protection against dying if they had upped their exercise from light to moderate, the benefits of light exercise should not be discounted.

They also found that following official advice to have bouts of exercise spread across the week of 10 minutes or more did not change the risk of dying in men in this age group.

‘It’s never too late to get active’

In an emailed comment, Emily McGrath, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, says: “Moderate intensity exercise, at any age, can improve your heart health as well as lowering your blood pressure, cholesterol and helping you lose excess weight.

“Research shows just 20 to 30 minutes of exercise per day can make a difference – anything that increases your heart rate and makes you breathe a little faster will improve your health.

“It’s never too late to get active and even a little physical activity is better than none.”