It might be a good idea to pick up (or keep up) an active hobby as you get older: regular exercise such as jogging, swimming, or playing tennis can reduce the risk of death from any cause in older adults, a new study shows.
The more exercise the better, the research reveals, though even a small amount of activity is better than no activity at all, according to the data obtained from 272,550 adults aged between 59 and 82.
Across seven different categories – running, walking, cycling, swimming, racquet sports, golf, and other aerobic exercise – the team looked at metabolic equivalent of task (MET) hours, a standardized way of measuring an amount of energy expended.
"Our comprehensive analysis of more than 270,000 older adults with a mean of 12 years of follow-up demonstrates the benefits associated with participating in any of these leisure time physical activity types for reducing mortality risk, including cardiovascular and cancer mortality, among older populations," write the researchers in their published paper.
Across all the categories, a 13 percent reduction in mortality risk from any cause was seen, compared with no participation in these activities. That's based on 7.5-15 MET hours of activity a week, the amount recommended by the US health agency.
That recommendation equates to 2.5-5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week (a brisk walk perhaps), or 1.25-2.5 hours of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week (something like running or cycling).
The researchers also broke down the findings by activity type and cause of death. Running, for example, showed the greatest reduction in the risk of dying of cancer: a drop of 19 percent on average.
Racquet sports are particularly good for avoiding an early death: the statistics showed a 16 percent reduction in risk for all causes, and a 27 percent reduction in risk of death from cardiovascular diseases.
"These activities both require synchronized action from many muscles for correct form, and racquet sports also require hand-eye coordination and intermittent bursts of very high intensity, which may additionally improve physical functioning," write the researchers.
Those who exercised more than the recommended number of hours were shown to reduce their mortality risk even further, the study shows, though with diminishing returns as the time spent exercising increases.
At the other end of the scale, participants who didn't meet the recommended number of hours but still did some activity had a 5 percent reduction in all-cause mortality risk compared with those who didn't do any activity.
While some activities reduced risk more than others, the researchers are keen to emphasize that finding something active that you enjoy is most important – because it's then much more likely that you're going to keep it up.
"Finding an activity that older, inactive individuals enjoy (and so may sustain) is likely of a greater benefit than choosing a particular activity based on the differences between risk estimates reported," write the researchers.
The research has been published in JAMA Network Open.