MIDDLE-AGED men who play sport can put more than two years on their life – the same effect as stopping smoking.
A study of more than 2,000 50-year-olds found the death rate among those who went from a sedentary lifestyle to a high level of physical exercise reduced by 32 per cent.
Mortality fell by more than a fifth for participants who also started indulging in at least three hours of recreational sports or heavy gardening after previously reporting medium activity such as walking or cycling.
The Swedish researchers said although it takes five to ten years before an effect is seen, the benefits were similar to the effects of giving up cigarettes.
After adjusting for other risk factors, they worked out that men who reported high levels of physical activity from the age of 50 were expected to live 2.3 years longer than sedentary counterparts, and 1.1 years more than men who reported medium levels of physical activity.
Dr Liisa Byberg, of Upsala University, said there was a period of at least five years during which the risk of death was higher for physically inactive men who suddenly started exercising.
The researchers said that as well as combating obesity and heart disease, physical activity could have beneficial effects on hormones and the nervous systems that influence neuromuscular and brain function.