A little exercise late in life may help men live longer, new research from Norway suggests.
"Even in the elderly, there is a lot to gain by being moderately active as compared to being sedentary," said study lead author Ingar Holme, professor emeritus at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences in Oslo.
The study of older men found that increasing physical activity benefited life span as much as quitting smoking.
"Given the evidence, physical activity is probably an important factor in getting people to age successfully," Holme said. "But there are many things that we don't know in this field."
The study doesn't take into account the risk of injury from exercise, or fully examine which might have come first, poor health or lack of exercise. Nor did it prove that regular exercise caused the men to live longer, just that there was an association between the two.
Nevertheless, one expert said the study fits in with previous research linking physical activity to better health and quality of life.
"While we may not fully understand all the mechanisms, we do know that exercise, especially as we age, is a critical component in preventing [mental] decline, lowering the risk for depression and other mental health challenges, maintaining muscle mass and function, enhancing cardiorespiratory fitness, increasing social interactions, maintaining balance and coordination, and reducing fall risk," said Brad Roy. He is executive director of the medical fitness center at Kalispell Regional Medical Center in Montana.
While the study says nothing about women, other research suggests they gain similar benefits, said Roy, who wasn't involved in the study.
Need help getting motivated?
Phillip Sparling, a professor emeritus in the School of Applied Physiology at Georgia Institute of Technology, offers some advice: "Select exercise activities you enjoy, set a regular time and routine, exercise with friends, consult a personal trainer, make a plan, keep a written record, and share goals with family and friends."
It's also important to consult a health professional before beginning any exercise plan.
The study appears May 14 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.