By Jenny Cook
Men, take note
Although many people use ageing as an excuse to slow things down a bit, a new study suggests that getting fit in your 40s and 50s could reduce the risk of long-term health problems – especially in men.
Middle-aged people who throw themselves into sport are half as likely to suffer from a stroke as those who lead more sedentary lifestyles, Nowegian scientists found, following a 28-year-long study that followed 1,400 males.
The researchers re-assessed their volunteers’ fitness every seven years, during which two ‘groups’ became clear. The larger group was made up of participants – most of whom were aged between 40 and 50 at the start of the study – who became less active as middle age set in, while a smaller group (around one in three) upped their exercise efforts as they got older.
Upon comparing those who boosted their fitness levels the most with those who saw the greatest decline, the true impact of exercise became clear – resulting in the former having a 56% lower stroke risk when compared to the latter. Interestingly, some of the highest achievers had started out ‘from scratch’, having lead very sedentary lives at the start of trial before totally transforming their exercise regime over the course of the study. Study lead Dr Erik Prestgaard, from the University of Oslo Hospital, said:
“The men who increased [their fitness levels] the most were not fit at all, they went from low levels and moved up… These men were just getting themselves together. They weren’t marathon runners, or anything like that. So we can safely say that as a normal person you are able to improve your fitness by putting in the effort and that will protect you.”
“If you become fit or remain fit, there’s no difference. That’s a good message – if you’re 50 and not fit over the next years you can become fit and lower your risk. It’ s never too late to get fit… But you can’t let yourself go because you lose the protection that you had. If you’re in good shape when you’re 50 you can’t just stop working out and float on what you have. You have to keep it up.”
Although previous studies have suggested that improving fitness in middle age can protect the heart, this is the first time exercise has been linked to long-term stroke risk. Currently, more than 100,000 Brits have a stroke each year – although it is thought that nine in ten of these are caused by lifestyle factors such as diet, obesity or fitness levels, and are therefore preventable.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Richard Francis – of the Stroke Association – said:
“Regular exercise is known to have many positive effects, such as help to maintain a healthy weight, improving mood, as well as increasing fitness. [This study] appears to suggest that changes in fitness among middle-aged healthy men may predict a stroke in later life.”
This comes following guidance released by Public Health England last week, saying that just one 10 minute walk a day can reduce the chance of premature death by 15%.
The study was presented to the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Barcelona.