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Stay active – or get active – to boost quality of life while aging, study suggests to middle-aged women

Data from more than 10,000 Australian women showed a significant link between regular exercise during middle-age and physical health in later life, even when the exercise routine was not started until their mid-50s

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Stay active – or get active – to boost quality of life while aging, study suggests to middle-aged women


Researchers assess physical health and women’s activity levels in mid-age and later life.

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Credit: Pixabay, Pexels (CC0,

Consistent adherence to physical activity guidelines throughout middle-age is associated with a higher health-related quality of life in women, according to a new study publishing May 2nd in the open-access journal PLOS Medicine by Binh Nguyen of University of Sydney, Australia, and colleagues.

The evidence for an association between physical activity and health-related quality of life has been based primarily on cross-sectional studies and short-term randomized controlled trials. Few longitudinal studies have measured physical activity at more than one time point and examined the long-term causal effects of exercise.

In the new study, researchers used data collected at three-year intervals beginning in 1996 from 11,336 participants in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health. Women were born in 1946 through 1951, making them 47 to 52 years old at the study outset. Participants were classified as either meeting WHO physical activity guidelines — of 150 minutes of activity a week — consistently throughout the fifteen-year exposure period, not initially meeting the guidelines but starting to meet them at age 55, 60 or 65, or never meeting the guidelines. Health-related quality of life was assessed using the physical health composite score (PCS) and mental health composite score (MCS) from the Short Form 36 Health Survey, which includes 36 questions about functional health and well-being.

On average, people who consistently met physical activity guidelines and those who first started to meet guidelines at age 55 had a three-point higher PCS (46.93 [95% CI 46.32 to 47.54] and 46.96 [95% CI 45.53 to 48.40], respectively), compared to those that did not meet physical activity guidelines (43.90 [95% CI 42.79 to 45.01]). The effect of physical activity on the PSC was significant even after controlling for socioeconomic factors and pre-existing health diagnoses. However, there was no significant association between physical activity and MCS.

“Combined with existing evidence, this study contributes to growing evidence of the benefits of maintaining or adopting an active lifestyle in mid-age,” the authors say. “An important public health message is that being active for as many years as possible, even if women start to meet physical activity guidelines in their mid-50s, could have important health benefits in terms of physical health, especially in physical functioning.”

The authors add, “Our study shows that it’s important for women to be active throughout mid-age to gain the most benefits for physical health in later life. Ideally, women should increase their activity levels to meet the guidelines by age 55.”


In your coverage, please use this URL to provide access to the freely available paper in PLOS Medicine:

Citation: Nguyen B, Clare P, Mielke GI, Brown WJ, Ding D (2024) Physical activity across midlife and health-related quality of life in Australian women: A target trial emulation using a longitudinal cohort. PLoS Med 21(5): e1004384.


Author Countries: Australia

Funding: The Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health. GIM is supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council Investigator Grant (APP2008702). DD is funded by an Emerging Leader Fellowship from the National Health and Medical Research Council (2009254) and an Early-Mid Career Researcher Grant under the New South Wales Cardiovascular Research Capacity Program. The funders had no role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

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