Becoming more active in middle-age or later life cuts the risk of an early death, new research suggests.
A study, published in journal The BMJ, found individuals could experience “substantial” benefits – regardless of how much exercise they had done previously.
The results were similar for cancer survivors and people who had suffered cardiovascular disease, the University of Cambridge researchers said.
Physical activity has previously been linked to a lower risk of death, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.
However, this new research looked at changes in physical activity over time.
The researchers studied more than 14,500 men and women, aged 40 to 79 years old, who were assessed between 1993 and 1997 and followed until 2016.
Higher physical activity levels and increases in physical activity over time were both linked with a longer life, the study found.
People who were inactive at the start of the study, and gradually met guidelines of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity over the next five years, were at a 24% lower risk of death.
They were also at a 29% lower risk of cardiovascular death, and an 11% lower risk of death from cancer.
“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,” the researchers said.
“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.”