Good news: Late start to an active life has similar benefits to lifelong activity

Image description: Head shot of Tracy, dressed for running in a ballcap, buff over top of it, sunglasses, earbuds, urban setting in the background.

Sam is right when she says I like good news stories. I’m a big fan of good news, especially for aging people who are thinking it might be too late to start getting active. After a certain age, we usually assume that we can’t make any physical gains (other than weight gain). But studies show otherwise.

A recent study published in JAMA reports similar lower mortality risk in life-long active people than in those who take up activity later in life. The study found as follows: ” This cohort study of 315 059 participants found that maintaining physical activity from adolescence into later adulthood was associated with 29% to 36% lower risk for all-cause mortality and that being inactive but increasing physical activity during midlife was associated with 32% to 35% lower risk for mortality.”

It translates this to mean: “Although long-term participation in physical activity may be important to lower mortality risk, the present study provides evidence that becoming physically active later in adulthood (40-61 years of age) may provide comparable health benefits.”

I consider myself anecdotal evidence for this study’s legitimacy. I’ve never been an athlete. I’ve had different times of my life that I’ve been active, but I was definitely not at all active as an adolescent or a young adult. And I’ve only really just come into my own in terms of consistent physical fitness since Sam and I started blogging about it in 2012, just before we turned 48.

We committed to being the fittest we’d ever been in our lives by the time we turned 50. You can read about that two year commitment in our book, Fit at Midlife: A Feminist Fitness Journey. (it’s also available as an audiobook, by the way!)

And guess what? Having trained for and completed two Olympic distance triathlons by my 50th birthday, I can attest that yes, I was the fittest I’d ever been in my life by the time I turned 50. And I can attest further that I have a higher level of fitness now than I did then.

So it’s kind of amazing to think that the probabilities are in my favour for lower risk of mortality comparable to what I’d have if I had been a lifelong athlete. That’s really good news.

Okay, I get that it’s just one study. And I get that we can’t really draw direct conclusions about our own lives from one study. But I like it anyway. It’s good news for all of us who started late or who may still be able to get more physically active but are still stuck in the view that physical decline as we age is inevitable so “why bother?”

I don’t want to go so far as to say that it’s never too late. Things happen. Not everything we might have liked to try remains available to us at all times in our life. But it’s almost never too late for a great many people who might be thinking of getting more active but might feel discouraged before they even start. And that’s a good news story.

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