Background: Although physical activity has substantial health benefits and reduces mortality, few studies have examined its impact on survival beyond age 75.
Methods: Using the population-based Leisure World Cohort Study, we explored the association of activity on all-cause mortality in older adults (median age at baseline = 74 years). We followed 8,371 women and 4,828 men for 28 years or until death (median = 13 years) and calculated relative risks for various measures of activity at baseline using Cox regression analysis for four age groups (<70, 70-74, 75-79, and 80+ years) in men and women separately.
Results: Time spent in active activities, even ½ hour/day, resulted in significantly lower (15-35%) mortality risks compared with no time in active activities. This reduction was evident in all sex-age groups except the youngest men. Participants who reported spending 6 or more hours/day in other less physically demanding activities also had significantly reduced risks of death of 15-30%. The beneficial effect of activities was observed in both those who did and those who did not cut down their activities due to illness or injury. Neither adjustment for potential confounders, exclusion of the first 5 years of follow-up, nor exclusion of individuals with histories of chronic disease substantially changed the findings.
Conclusions: Participation in leisure-time activities is an important health promoter in aging populations. The association of less physically demanding activities as well as traditional physical activities involving moderate exertion with reduced mortality suggests that the protective effect of engagement in activities is a robust one.