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Findings on exercise from the 45 and Up Study

Recent Australian research shows that people over 45 who do at least some vigorous exercise live longer than people who do moderate intensity exercise. But what does this mean for you?

The finding - and it’s not the first - comes from a big study called 45 and Up.  More than 250,000 people — one in 10 NSW men and women aged from 45 to 85+ — have been recruited to it, and it’s been going for about eight years.  So in terms of its scale alone it's credible.

These types of studies collect huge amounts of information from questionnaires. In this case they cover topics such as chronic disease, medication, diet and exercise and aim to help find broad answers on how to support the health of an ageing population.

Australian exercise guidelines encourage us to do 150 minutes (equivalent to 30 minutes a day five days a week) of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week. The 45 and Up researchers are arguing that we should be encouraging people to huff and puff more.

Notwithstanding that this result seems to show up in all of these types of studies and is worth taking on board, there are a few other points to note.

First, the answers you get from research depend on the questions you ask, and 45 and Up asks only about how much exercise we’ve done and whether it was vigorous or moderate. 

There are many other types of exercise that are worth doing, including balance and posture activities and resistance training. This week I saw a professional woman who has beaten chronic neck and shoulder pain with regular tai chi. It’s probably also helped her to manage work-related stress. But vigorous it's not.

Second, it may be that people who do vigorous exercise also do other things that support their health. Perhaps they pay more attention to diet or were healthier in the first place. Health behaviour occurs in clusters, and it would be useful to know what other behaviours went hand-in-hand with vigorous exercise. 

Third, the question asks about the exercise participants did last week. So it’s limited to a particular time frame, and based on people telling the truth and having reasonable recall. 

Fourth, any exercise is a plus. If we could get sedentary people off the sofa and out the door it would make a massive difference. So even if you’re unable to do vigorous activity, moving matters.

Still, 45 and Up and other population ageing studies are telling us that even if you’re obese or have heart disease or diabetes, provided you have a medical clearance it’s important to look at how to get your heart rate up a little more.  

If your main exercise is a stop-start stroll with your arthritic old labrador, see if you can find a way to add some hills or quicker sections, even if the lab doesn’t join you. Or look for an additional activity you could do. Even one day a week. 

A worrying finding from this study is that women are less likely than men to do vigorous exercise. That’s a mindset we need to shift.

Photo source: PicJumbo

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Sunday, April 12, 2015 | Rhonda Anderson