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Take up tennis, swimming or gardening to avoid muscle aches in old age, study finds

Adults who wish to avoid suffering from bone, joint and muscle pain in old age need to engage in intense exercise at least once a week, according to a new study.

Digging in the garden with a spade, playing tennis, going for regular swims or undertaking a hard physical labour job could help ward off chronic musculoskeletal pain in the long-term, said researchers at the University of Portsmouth.

Authors of the study, which has been published in the Plos One journal, examined data on 5,208 people aged 50 or over who were taking part in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing for a 10-year period.

The study found that all levels of physical activity were associated with lower likelihood of suffering from musculoskeletal pain compared to being sedentary.

However, mild and moderate forms of exercise, such as dancing, walking and vacuuming, did not have the same protective effect as high intensity activities.

Dr Nils Niederstrasser, lead author of the study, commented: “Chronic pain is a huge problem at any age, and one of the main causes for people calling in sick at work or visiting A&E.

“It is one of the most widespread and complex problems in the medical community and leads, for many who suffer with it, to a lower quality of life and poor wellbeing.

“Any activity does help people stay well and feel better than not exercising, but mild exercise does not appear to have a long-term effect on the development of chronic pain.

“Activity needs to not only be vigorous, it needs to be done at least once a week. A person who cycles, for example, once a month and whose only other activity was light housework would still be classed as sedentary.”

The study also examined the experience of chronic pain alongside gender, BMI, age and wealth.

It found that being poor, being female and being overweight or obese were all risk factors for suffering musculoskeletal pain.

Researchers believe pain may be more common in women due to hormonal differences.

In those who are obese, the extra weight adds “a burden” to the body’s joints.

Dr Nina Attridge, a co-author of the study, said she hopes the findings will help medical professionals design exercise programmes that include “regular vigorous physical activity”.

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