The key to healthy ageing revealed: THIS is the secret to being active in old age

Men who are physically active in midlife are more likely to continue the habit into older age as well,  a long term tracking study published in the online journal BMJ Open has revealed.

Playing sport is the physical activity most likely to stand the test of time, the findings show.

Researchers from University College London, have suggested that encouraging early and sustained participation in sports might help people to stay active in old age.

The health benefits of being physically active throughout the life can prevent health condition when people get older - such as dementia and even conditions like osteoarthritis and bone fractures.

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.”

Experts said the change from midlife to old age often coincides with major life events, such as retirement, when both the amount and frequency of exercise are likely to change.

Researchers tracked the behaviour of nearly 3,500 men for up to 20 years.

This involved nearly 8,000 men from 24 British towns, who first entered a heart study between 1978 to 1980 when they were aged between 40 and 59.

They were monitored after 12, 16, and 20 years.

Each participant filled in a questionnaire on their medical history and lifestyle, which included questions on the amount and type of physical activity they took part in.

These included walking, recreational activities, home improvements (DIY), gardening and chores, and sports or formal exercise.

The responses were scored according to the intensity and frequency of the activity, and the figures combined to give a total activity score.

Throughout the 20-year study the proportion of men classified as active remained at around two thirds at each check up.

However, this masked the changes in the types of activity the men did over time.

Sport was the most stable activity, with just under half of men reporting playing sport at least occasionally at each check up.

The proportion of men who reported high levels of walking rose from just under 27 per cent at the start of the study to 62 per cent at the 20 year check up.

However they found sharp falls in the proportion who engaged in recreational activities, with over half the men - 56 per cent - reporting high levels at the start of the study, but only 40 per cent doing so at the 20 year check up.

The other key finding was that men who were active in midlife were nearly three times as likely to be physically active 20 years later, after taking account of potentially influential factors.

Sport participation in midlife predicted physical activity in old age more strongly than other types of physical activity.

The odds were even greater for those who had played sports for 25 years or more: these men were nearly five times as likely to be physically active into older age compared with men who didn’t play sports.

The authors said: “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.”

“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,” they added.

This comes after it was revealed exercise is the key to staying young.