Women who are physically active in middle age may have better health in later life

Evidence suggests that maintaining or adopting an active lifestyle during middle age has greater health benefits

Women who exercised for at least 150 minutes a week in middle age were found to have better physical health in later life. Getty Images
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Women who are consistently physically active during middle age will be healthier in later life, new research suggests.

Even when the exercise routine was not started until their mid-50s, women who exercised for at least 150 minutes a week during middle age were found to have better physical health in later life, the study of more than 11,000 women showed.

The findings, published in the journal Plos One, add to growing evidence that maintaining or adopting an active lifestyle during middle age has greater health benefits.

The NHS and World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the week.

Examples of moderate intensity activities, according to the NHS, include brisk walking, water aerobics, riding a bike, dancing, pushing a lawnmower or hiking.

Vigorous exercises include running, swimming, riding a bike fast or on hills, walking up stairs, skipping and aerobics.

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“An important public health message is that being active for as many years as possible, even if women start to meet physical activity guidelines in their mid-50s, could have important health benefits in terms of physical health, especially in physical functioning," the authors wrote.

The team, led by Binh Nguyen of University of Sydney in Australia, analysed data from 11,336 women who were part of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health.

These women were 47 to 52 years old at the beginning of the study and were followed for around 15 years.

Each individual was assessed to see if they met the WHO's guidelines on weekly physical activity.

The researchers also looked at the quality of life of these women in relation to their health, using a questionnaire known as the Short Form 36 Health Survey, which includes 36 questions about a person’s functional health and well-being.

These questions are broadly grouped into two measures: The Physical Component Summary (PCS) and the Mental Component Summary (MCS).

PCS assesses whether there are any limitations in physical activities such as walking, climbing stairs due to health problems, whether there is any impact of body pain on daily activities, and looks at the overall perception of health.

Meanwhile MCS measures energy levels, fatigue, and feelings of being worn out, assesses the extent of social or other activities affected by physical or emotional problems, and evaluates psychological well-being, including mood, anxiety and depression.

Findings showed those who consistently followed the physical activity guidelines, or began following them at age 55, tended to have a higher PCS score (46.93 and 46.96 respectively), compared to those who did not (43.90).

The researchers said the effect of physical activity on the PCS was significant even after controlling for socioeconomic factors and pre-existing health diagnoses.

But they added they found no significant association between physical activity and MCS.

“Our study shows that it’s important for women to be active throughout mid-age to gain the most benefits for physical health in later life," the authors wrote.

“Ideally, women should increase their activity levels to meet the guidelines by age 55.”

Updated: May 02, 2024, 6:36 PM