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Longevity Briefs: It’s Never Too Late To Get Fit – But That Doesn’t Mean You Should Put It Off

Posted on 3 March 2023

Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.

Why is this research important: Research suggests that people who are more physically active undergo slower rates of cognitive decline. But does it matter when this physical activity occurs? Research about the importance of the timing of physical activity is still ongoing, but so far looks optimistic. Numerous studies suggest that even in later life, exercise has significant benefits for many aspects of health. The only time limit is that imposed by age-related frailty, which can make physical activity hard to engage in in the first place.

What did the researchers do: In this study, researchers looked at data from 1417 British people born in the same week of 1946. Participants were followed up five times between ages 36 and 69, and categorised into three groups based on self reported physical activity. At age 69, participants underwent multiple cognitive tests to assess their level of cognitive impairment, verbal memory and processing speed.

Key takeaway(s) from this research: In agreement with other studies, adults who participated in physical leisure activities 4 or more times a month scored significantly better in cognitive tests than those who did not report participating in any such activity. However, if participants were physically active for only part of the 33 year window studied, there was no significant relationship between when the physical activity occurred and their cognitive performance at age 69.

While the timing of physical activity didn’t appear to matter, participants who were consistently physically active over a longer period of time did perform better. This suggests that what really matters for late life cognition is forming a long term habit of regular exercise – there does not appear to be a specific window in which exercise is especially critical, at least during midlife. Adults who are already physically active should remain active, while inactive adults stand to benefit from regular exercise regardless of age.

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    Timing of physical activity across adulthood on later-life cognition: 30 years follow-up in the 1946 British birth cohort:

    Title image by Samuel Girven on Upslash

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