Playing regular rounds of golf or joining a cricket team could help men in their 40s and 50s stay healthy into old age, research found. Men who played sport in middle age were up to five times more likely to keep fit and active into their late 70s than those who avoided sports.
The findings suggested encouraging early and sustained participation in sports might help people to stay active as they reach retirement.
Researchers at University College of London found men changed the types of activity they preferred as they got older, including enjoying more recreational walking once they hit retirement age. But those who had played sports like football, cricket and golf for 25 years or more at the start of the study were likely to still be playing, even if only occasionally, in later life. Daniel Aggio, lead author of the study, said: ‘Early engagement in sport and structured exercise may be vital for developing the necessary motor skills needed to establish a lifelong habit for physical activity.
‘However, it may also be important to provide opportunities to take up other forms of activity, such as walking, during the transition to old age. ’For the study, researchers tracked the behavioural of nearly 3,500 men for up to 20 years.
The men were all taking part in the British Regional Heart Study, which enrolled men from GP lists in 24 British towns between 1978 and 1980, when they were aged between 40 and 59.
Each participant completed a detailed questionnaire on their medical history and lifestyle, including answering questions on the amount and type of physical activity they did. This included walking, sports and exercise and recreational activities like doing DIY, gardening and chores.
Men who played sports were also asked how long they had been doing them for.
They were then followed up after 12, 16 and 20 years – at which time there was complete data for 3,414 men who were still alive.
Those who were active in midlife were nearly three times as likely to be physically active 20 years later, after taking into account factors like health problems.
Sport was most likely to keep men active, with those playing for at least 25 years being five times more likely to be physically active into older age than those who did not play sports.
The researchers said there may be several reasons why sport helped people keep active in old age.
‘One possibility is that people’s enjoyment of sport may be more likely to persist into old age than preferences for other types of activity,’ they said.
‘Sport participation in mid-life may help maintain physical function and physical activity self-efficacy in later life, increasing psychological and physical readiness for physical activity in old age.’
Throughout the study, around two thirds of men were classed as active but the types of activity they did changed.
The proportion who said they walked frequently rose from around 27 per cent at the beginning of the study to 62 per cent 20 years later, possibly because they had more time in retirement.
Sport remained the most stable activity, with just under half of men saying they played sport at least occasionally at each check-up.
But the proportion of men who did recreational activities dropped from 56 per cent at the start to 40 per cent at the 20 year check-up. Researchers said this could be because men had to curtail more strenuous activities as they got older.
The research, which was published in the online journal BMJ Open, only considered men and may not be applicable to women.
Dr Mike Knapton, of the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘While the researchers looked at men specifically, this should encourage everyone to build physical activity into their weekly routines, whether that is through walking, DIY, gardening or sport. By maintaining physical activity throughout your life, chances are that you will enjoy an active retirement.
‘We know from previous research that being physically inactive increases your risk of heart disease and directly contributes to one in six deaths.
‘But taking simple and small steps, such as brisk walking for 10 minutes every day, will not only help lower cholesterol and blood pressure but will reduce your risk of heart disease too.’
Source: Daily Mail.