Meet these physical activity guidelines by 55 for better quality of life

A big, long term Australian study has contributed to the growing evidence of the benefits of maintaining or adopting an active lifestyle in mid-age.

The study of more than 11,000 Australian women has found those who consistently meet the World Health Organization (WHO) physical activity guidelines throughout middle age have significantly higher health-related quality of life later in life.

But this is also the case for women who only began meeting the recommended levels of weekly physical activity by age 55.

“Ideally, women should increase their activity levels to meet the guidelines by age 55,” says Dr Binh Nguyen, from the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Sydney, lead author of the paper in PLOS Medicine.

The WHO guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour provide evidence-based recommendations for multiple age groups on the amount of physical activity required to offer significant health benefits and mitigate health risks.

According to the guidelines, throughout the week adults aged 18-64 years should do “at least 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity; or at least 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity; or an equivalent combination…”

And for additional health benefits: “muscle-strengthening activities at moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week”.

Researchers analysed data collected in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health. The 11,336 participants were aged 47 to 52 years when the study began in 1996 and data was collected in 3 year intervals until 2019.

Participants were classified as either meeting WHO physical activity guidelines consistently throughout the fifteen-year exposure period; not initially meeting the guidelines but starting to meet them at age 55, 60 or 65; or never meeting the guidelines. 

Health-related quality of life was assessed using the physical health composite score (PCS) from a health survey which includes 36 questions about functional health and well-being.

Women who consistently met physical activity guidelines throughout mid-age, and those who first started to meet guidelines at age 55, on average had a 3-point higher PCS compared to those that did not.

This effect remained significant after controlling for socioeconomic factors and pre-existing health diagnoses.

“An important public health message is that being active for as many years as possible, even if women start to meet physical activity guidelines in their mid-50s, could have important health benefits in terms of physical health, especially in physical functioning,” says Nguyen.

“Overall, the findings from this study highlight the importance of being physically active for as long as possible to gain the most benefits for quality of life, especially in relation to physical health.”

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