Physical activity benefits over the life course

We developed a model explaining how physical activity benefits health over the life course. Physical activity can benefit health at any age, but has different health outcomes at different ages. For example, in young adults, it may help prevent obesity, whereas later in life, it is important in helping to prevent type 2 diabetes.

In general, physical activity is beneficial for health. However, little is known about benefits across different domains of activities performed within daily-life routines such as commuting, leisure-time and activities at work. And does it also matter how old you are? This thesis focuses on the relationship between daily-life moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and health. Data from the Lifelines cohort was used for this.

When people were more active than others, the domain of activity was important. Being intensively active in leisure time (think of brisk walking, cycling and sports) is healthy. The same applies to active commuting, for example cycling to work. What was not favorable was hard work. Intensive physical activity at work showed no favorable relationship with health. It is not clear whether the type of physical activity associated with work is not favorable, or whether there are other circumstances at work that counteract a possible health benefit.

Interestingly, the association between being active and health depended on age. Being physically active was related to lower body weight gain mostly in younger adults, while being more active was strongly associated with lower risk of fatty liver or high blood pressure in older adults.

Even in people who already have a serious illness, physical activity is still beneficial. Patients who were more active after a kidney transplant were less likely to have diabetes and less likely to die prematurely.
In conclusion, physical activity is beneficial for health at any adult age and also for people with chronic health problems.

Interested on the relationship between daily-life moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and health data? Read the article: Physical activity and cardiometabolic health: Focus on domain-specific associations of physical activity over the life course