Starting exercise in your 60s has health benefits

Senior fitness expert
It is never too late to start.

If you are concerned about the possibility of ill-health in later years but feel it is too late to start getting fit, don’t worry. New health research has shown that starting exercise in your 60s is absolutely fine for most people and it will help to ward off many chronic illnesses and diseases.

The study was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. It looked at 3,500 healthy men and women who were just reaching retirement, or already retired. Researchers discovered that those who started exercising were three times more likely to stay health over the next eight years than those who remained sedentary.

The main benefits of exercise are that it reduced risk of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and depression.

After the eight year study one in five of the participants (around 700 people) were still totally healthy, with no major chronic mental or physical illness. Most of these people had either exercised all their lives or recently started exercising. There were very few people in the healthy group who did not exercise at all.

Dr Mark Hamer from University College London lead the research team. He said: “The take-home message really is to keep moving when you are elderly. It’s [a] cliche, but it’s a case of use it or lose it. You do lose the benefits if you don’t remain active.”

The amount of exercise done ranged from moderate exercise once a week to more vigorous exercise three or four times a week. All were much healthier, indicating that more vigorous exercise is not really needed for good health – although it is needed to be super fit and strong.

Healthy physical activity can include gardening, going for a walk or just generally being more active. Chasing after grandchildren on a regular basis is probably more than enough exercise for most people.

“The take-home message really is to keep moving when you are elderly” Dr Mark Hamer, Lead researcher.


Research paper:

Taking up physical activity in later life and healthy” by Mark Hamer, Kim L Lavoie, Simon L Bacon. Br J Sports Med doi:10.1136/bjsports-2013-092993


Background: Physical activity is associated with improved overall health in those people who survive to older ages, otherwise conceptualised as healthy ageing. Previous studies have examined the effects of mid-life physical activity on healthy ageing, but not the effects of taking up activity later in life. We examined the association between physical activity and healthy ageing over 8 years of follow-up.

Methods: Participants were 3454 initially disease-free men and women (aged 63.7±8.9 years at baseline) from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, a prospective study of community dwelling older adults. Self-reported physical activity was assessed at baseline (2002–2003) and through follow-up. Healthy ageing, assessed at 8 years of follow-up (2010-2011), was defined as those participants who survived without developing major chronic disease, depressive symptoms, physical or cognitive impairment.

Results: At follow-up, 19.3% of the sample was defined as healthy ageing. In comparison with inactive participants, moderate (OR, 2.67, 95% CI 1.95 to 3.64), or vigorous activity (3.53, 2.54 to 4.89) at least once a week was associated with healthy ageing, after adjustment for age, sex, smoking, alcohol, marital status and wealth. Becoming active (multivariate adjusted, 3.37, 1.67 to 6.78) or remaining active (7.68, 4.18 to 14.09) was associated with healthy ageing in comparison with remaining inactive over follow-up.

Conclusions: Sustained physical activity in older age is associated with improved overall health. Significant health benefits were even seen among participants who became physically active relatively late in life.

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