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Social and Physical Activity Add Years to Life

Keep or make new friends and exercise, that’s the advice to increase longevity that comes from a new study published in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) and discussed in a recent issue of the Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter.

It’s not surprising to see that exercise made a difference, in fact it was the most important factor; but maintaining a rich social network was almost as important.

The Swedish study found that people over the age of 75 with a physically and socially active lifestyle lived an average of 5.4 years longer than their less active peers. Even at age 85 and older the “active” seniors lived an additional 4 years.

Deborah Rizzuto, one of the researchers commented, “Our research suggests that encouraging favorable lifestyle behaviors, even at advanced ages, may enhance life expectancy.” Miriam Nelson, Ph.D., Director of Tufts’ John Hancock Research Center on Physical Activity, Nutrition  and Obesity Prevention, agrees pointing out that even well into your “golden years” exercise can extend your life and the greatest benefits occur in those who go from doing nothing to a little more than nothing.

If you look at the health of people along the whole spectrum, from very sedentary to athletes, the fitness graph isn’t a straight line. It turns out that the biggest jump comes from the bottom of the range; the less active you are now, the more benefit you get from adding even a small amount of exercise to life. The message is clear, it is never too late to exercise and anything is better than nothing.

While it may be challenging for some seniors to stay or become more physically active, staying socially active may pose even more of a challenge. Encouraging seniors to stay involved in church, community and family activities can help improve their health.

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