Older people constitute a significant proportion of the total population and their number is projected to increase by more than half by 2030. This increasing probability of late survival comes with considerable individual, economic and social impact. Physical activity (PA) can influence the ageing process but the specific relationship with healthy ageing (HA) is unclear.
The authors conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies examining the associations of PA with HA. Studies were identified from a systematic search across major electronic databases from inception as January 2017. Random-effect meta-analysis was performed to calculate a pooled effect size (ES) and 95% CIs. Studies were assessed for methodological quality. Overall, 23 studies were identified including 174,114 participants (30% men) with age ranges from 20 to 87 years old. There was considerable heterogeneity in the definition and measurement of HA and PA. Most of the identified studies reported a significant positive association of PA with HA, six reported a non-significant. Meta-analysis revealed that PA is positively associated with HA (ES: 1.39, 95% CI=1.23-1.57, n=17) even if adjusted for publication bias (ES: 1.27, 95% CI=1.11-1.45, n=20).
There is consistent evidence from longitudinal observational studies that PA is positively associated with HA, regardless of definition and measurement. Future research should focus on the implementation of a single metric of HA, on the use of objective measures for PA assessment and on a full-range of confounding adjustment. In addition, our research indicated the limited research on ageing in low-and-middle income countries.