Taking up exercise in middle age slashes your risk of an early death – even if you’ve been inactive your whole life, research suggests.
A study of nearly 15,000 Britons found those who exercised for two-and-a-half hours a week significantly cut their risk of dying in the next 13 years.
For those who were inactive previously, the risk of an early death went down by a quarter, scientists found.
But the benefits were greatest for those who already exercised and became even more active over time. Their risk of an early death plummeted by 42 per cent.
Researchers say the findings show that it’s never too late to get fit, even after a life of inactivity.
The NHS recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week, such as cycling, brisk walking, swimming or gardening.
But Public Health England says more than a third of English adults do not follow the advice.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge followed 14,599 men and women, all from Norfolk, for eight years to study how their activity levels fluctuated.
The team then monitored them over the following 13 years to see how the changes impacted their health.
During the study period, there were 3,148 deaths, including 950 from cardiovascular disease and 1,091 from cancer.
The authors, writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), said the findings give hope to the millions of middle-aged Britons who don’t get enough exercise.
They said: ‘These results are encouraging, not least for middle aged and older adults with existing cardiovascular disease and cancer, who can still gain substantial longevity benefits by becoming more active, lending further support to the broad public health benefits of physical activity.
‘In addition to shifting the population towards meeting the minimum physical activity recommendations, public health efforts should also focus on the maintenance of physical activity levels, specifically preventing declines over mid to late life.’
June Davison, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘It’s never too late to get active; regardless of how little you have exercised in the past and whether or not you have heart disease.
‘The potential benefits of taking up regular physical activity in middle age and beyond are huge. Public health strategies need to focus on preventing the decline of physical activity in these age groups.
‘To keep your heart healthy, adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week. For some people, this might seem a lot, but it can be broken down into short 10-minute sessions throughout the day and these easily add up!
‘Walk to the shops instead of driving or take the stairs where possible and break up long periods of sitting, every half hour with five minutes of movement.