Fewer than a third of adults in Scotland are doing enough physical activity to develop the muscle, balance and coordination needed to keep them healthy in later life, with many giving up sports in their 20s and 30s.
New research by the University of Edinburgh has pinpointed the ages at which young adults are quitting certain sports such as football, running and dancing.
The decision to give up these sports — which are important for building muscle strength and balance — not only has an impact on their existing health and fitness levels, but creates a lifetime problem for the individuals.
Building and maintaining muscle strength is associated with reducing the risk of early death and heart disease, and preventing type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. Activities such as a gym workout, dancing and golf improve balance and co-ordination and reduce the risk of falls and immobility among older adults.
But, according to the research published in the BMC Public Health journal, working out at the gym and jogging dips after 35, while playing football declines after 25. Dancing reduces for women after 35.
Tessa Strain, lead researcher from the university’s Physical Activity for Health Research Centre, said: “There is a gap in physical activity policy. Despite the known benefits, muscle strengthening and balance and co-ordination are Scotland’s forgotten guidelines.
“We would like to see more effort encouraging certain activities especially among young women and older age groups. Failure to do so could have important consequences for a country such as Scotland, with its ageing demographic.”
According to the research, only 31 per cent of men and 24 per cent of women are meeting the recommended muscle strengthening guidelines of two sessions of relevant activities per week.
Among older adults, aged 65 and over, only 19 per cent of men and 12 per cent of women are meeting similar UK physical activity guidelines for maintaining balance and co-ordination.
The take-up is significantly lower than the benchmark for aerobic activity, which 71 per cent of men and 58 per cent of women are achieving. Working out at the gym is the most popular activity to improve muscle strength for men, with 18 per cent participating. Swimming tops the list for women, with 15 per cent going at least twice a week.
Golf is the most popular activity to improve balance and co-ordination for older men, with 11 per cent playing, while aerobics is top of the list for women, with 6 per cent participating.
Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, said exercise needs to be incorporated into daily life right from birth, and continued into old age.
He said: “The guidelines state very clearly that physical activity, such as safely scrabbling around on the floor, should be encouraged from birth. Exercise for children should be as automatic as brushing teeth and carried through into their adult life.
“Come the day that vigorous activity is no longer an option, a brisk daily walk to keep up your muscle strength is essential as you approach your later years. I would add sarcopenia — muscle wasting — to the list of infirmities in the study that you should do your best to avoid.”
Hill-walking levels are maintained by both men and women until 65, the research revealed. Golf participation rises in the middle age groups for men.
A study published last week suggested that people with mild memory loss should start lifting weights to help stave off dementia.
Researchers found that building up muscle strength helps to improve brain function in adults over the age of 55 with mild cognitive impairment.