According to research published in British Journal of Sports medicine, thirty minutes of physical activity performed six days a week is linked to a 40% decrease in risk of death from any cause among elderly men – nearly as big of an impact on health as quitting smoking. This is regardless of the intensity of the exercise.
The researchers came to this conclusion from the results of the Oslo Study. This study examined around 15,000 men born between 1923 and 1932, by giving them a comprehensive health screening in 1972. In addition to the health screening, the men were given a survey which detailed weekly physical activity levels, unrelated to any job-required activity. The men were placed into one of four categories based on reported activity: sedentary, light, moderate, or vigorous.
6,000 men who survived where re-tested using the same procedures in 2000, and then monitored for nearly 12 years. This was to see if weekly physical activity over a given time was associated with a lower rate of death, and how this compared to the health impact of quitting smoking. During this 12 year period, just over 2,100 of the nearly 6,000 survivors who had completed both screenings passed away.
The results of the analysis was as follows. Less than one hour per week of light activity did not seem to have any meaningful reduction of risk of death. More than an hour per week, however, was linked to a 32-56% lower risk of death from any cause. However, vigorous activity had a much greater impact. Even less than an hour of vigorous activity was associated with a 23-37% risk of death. The more vigorous activity was performed, the greater the decrease in risk of death.
The average lifespan of the men who reported high levels of leisure activity on their surveys was 5 years longer on average than the sedentary men. Researchers concluded that the impact of physical activity was just as good for health as quitting smoking, even if only thirty minutes a day, six days a week.
It’s important to note that this was only an observational study. This means there was no direct research on cause and effect, rather, the researches could only comment on what was observed based on the health screens and reported activity. However, given what we know about the health benefits of exercise, it seems safe to say that frequent physical activity will reduce the risk of death, nearly as much as quitting smoking. It’s important to educate elderly men and encourage them to become more physically active, if they are not already.