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Participation in a physically active lifestyle during mid-life helps to maintain high physical function in later years

A recent study of British civil servants shows that a physically active lifestyle around age 50, regardless of long-standing illness, is associated with maintenance of high physical function in early old age. Those who were physically active at recommended levels were nearly twice as likely as their sedentary counterparts to report high physical function nearly 9 years later. Overall, 51 percent of the men and 72 percent of women were not sufficiently active (that is, 30 minutes or more of moderate physical activity on 5 or more days of the week) at baseline.

The prevalence of maximum physical function scores (100) declined between baseline and followup in both men (38.7 vs. 22.3 percent) and women (26.4 vs. 15.9 percent). Sedentary participants tended to report more long-standing illness, poorer physical function, more obesity, and more smoking at baseline. However, 25 percent of participants classified as sufficiently active at baseline also reported prevalent long-standing illness and low physical function. The association between initial level of physical activity and high physical function at followup remained after adjustment for baseline level of physical function and the presence of long-standing illness. Further adjustment for body mass index, smoking, and socioeconomic status made little difference in this effect.

This research was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS06516). It included over 6,000 London-based civil service workers aged 39 to 63 years at baseline. A team led by Michael G. Marmot, Ph.D., of University College London, used the Short Form (SF-36) General Health Survey to measure physical function at baseline (1991-1993) and at followup an average of 8.8 years later (2001).

More details are in "Prospective study of physical activity and physical function in early old age," by Melvyn M. Hillsdon, Ph.D., Eric J. Brunner, Ph.D., Jack M. Guralnik, Ph.D., and Dr. Marmot, in the April 2005 American Journal of Preventive Medicine 28(3), pp. 245-250.

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