Research being presented at the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress at the weekend shows that regular exercise can reduce ageing and increase average life span.
Sanjay Sharma, professor of inherited cardiac diseases in sports cardiology at St George’s University Hospitals in London, said moderate exercise reduces the risk of dying from a heart attack in the average person’s 50s and 60s by half.
He said: “This study is very relevant. It suggests that when people exercise regularly they may be able to retard the process of ageing.
“We may never avoid becoming completely old, but we may delay the time we become old. We may look younger when we’re 70 and live into our 90s.
“Exercise buys you three to seven additional years of life. It is an anti-depressant, it improves cognitive function and there is now evidence that it may retard the onset of dementia.”
He said everyone should be doing at least between 20 and 25 minutes of walking a day, involving brisk walking or slow jogging.
“If you know that something is 20 minutes away, try and walk it if you’ve got time and not take the bus,” he added. “People with a heart condition shouldn’t run but walk to a point where they can still speak - but they shouldn’t be able to sing. Following these simple directions is essential considering our sedentary lifestyles.”
He said exercise will bring benefits whatever your age or condition.
Dr Andrew Murray, of Edinburgh University, welcomed the study and said Scotland should be commended for being one of the parts of the world where physical activity levels are going up across age groups.
He said: “As a GP, I often get patients coming to ask what they can do to reduce risk of disease. Regular exercise is one of the single best things you can do. It’s not about necessarily having to do one type of sport. It’s about finding something you enjoy and sticking to it.”
People who start exercising at the age of 70 are less likely to go on to develop atrialfibrillation, a rhythm disturbance that affects about 10 per cent of people over 80.”
The research was carried out by a team at Saarland University in Germany who introduced a group of non-exercising but otherwise healthy and non-smoking people to a staged exercise programme.
They showed that aerobic exercise, high intensity interval training and strength training all have a positive impact on markers of ageing.
The authors noted that endurance exercise and high intensity exercise may be more efficient than just lifting weights, as they further increase the activity of telomerase – an enzyme which helps to repair DNA as it gets old.
They said that by measuring the increase of telomerase activity and decrease of a marker known as p16 (both indicators of cellular ageing in the blood) over a six-month period, doctors were able to show that regular exercise had triggered the anti-ageing process.
Christi Deaton, Florence Nightingale Foundation Professor at the University of Cambridge, said: “The more active you are, and it doesn’t matter when you start, the more benefit you are going to have.”