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The benefits of exercise and healthy living increase as we get older

A healthy group of women exercising.

According to recent Australian research, one of the best ways to maintain strength and vitality as we move through life is to avoid or quit smoking and to regularly exercise.

This study, by the University of Sydney, suggests that older people with an unhealthy lifestyle are twice as likely to end up in a care home than their active peers. Smoking, physical inactivity, sitting for long periods and poor sleep quality were also found to be associated with a higher risk of nursing home admission.

Interestingly, diet quality was not seen in the study to be a major factor in the above.

Researchers from the university studied data from more than 127,000 Australians who took part in research on healthy ageing between 2006 and 2009.

The study’s participants were divided into three risk groups based on five lifestyle factors; smoking, physical activity, sitting, sleep quality and diet quality, and then followed for an average of 11 years by researchers.

A quarter of these participants (24 per cent) were placed in the lowest risk group with a score of nine or 10 points, almost two-thirds (62 per cent) were in the medium risk group with a score of six to eight points and 14 per cent were in the unhealthiest group with a score below five points.

The research team also found that over-60s who eat badly and spend too much time on the sofa were 43 per cent more likely to end up in a nursing home compared with the fittest retirees. Those with a moderately healthy lifestyle, meanwhile, were 12 per cent more likely to need nursing home care than the healthiest old people.

Participants' lifestyles were then ranked from one to 10, with one representing the unhealthiest lifestyles and 10 the healthiest.

The risk of being admitted to a nursing home increased by 19 per cent with every unit decrease in healthy lifestyle score. People with the lowest scores saw their risk double compared with people with the highest scores. This risk was higher for the least healthy 60 to 64-year-olds (2.15 times) compared with the unhealthiest 65 to 74-year-olds (61 per cent) and 75 to 84-year-olds (36 per cent increased risk).

Smokers were found to be 55 per cent more likely than non-smokers to end up needing nursing care, according to the findings, which were recently presented at the International Conference on Obesity in Melbourne, Australia.

According to study author, Dr Alice Gibson from the University of Sydney, “Effective strategies to prevent or delay older adults entering nursing home care will help ensure society can adequately care for its increasing number of older people.

“Our study highlights the potential of preventing or delaying nursing home admission among at-risk individuals during ageing with interventions that promote a healthy lifestyle.

“This could be a powerful motivator for many individuals to adopt or maintain a healthier lifestyle.”

I write a lot about the benefits of a fitness lifestyle for the long run and the evidence that supports the claim that lifelong fitness can deliver a robust and happier life as we get older. This study fits with this argument and its scope is encouraging to the proposition that making lifestyle changes can have positive benefits whenever such changes are made.

In the course of my work as a personal trainer, I work with people of all ages and backgrounds, including retirees. To my mind, no matter the age or physical circumstance, exercise and following a healthy lifestyle can deliver measurable benefits which, at the end of the day, can be measured in a full and happy life.

So, get off the sofa, put down the cigarettes if you are a smoker and embrace the opportunities of an active and energetic lifestyle. It opens doors and opportunities when you make any of (or indeed all) of these changes.

If you have any queries about making a healthy lifestyle change, feel free to get in touch and I would be happy to help.


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