<< Back to News
PainFeb 2, 2022

Exercise should be vigorous and regular to ward off musculoskeletal pain in later life, study shows

Adults aged 50 and over who engage in vigorous exercise at least once a week appear to have a better chance of warding off chronic musculoskeletal (MSK) pain than their less active counterparts, a paper appearing in latest edition of the open-access PLOS ONE journal has suggested.

The recommended activities included tennis, running, swimming, digging with a spade or doing hard physical labour as part of a job.

The study, which was led by Nils Niederstrasser, a senior lecturer based at the University of Portsmouth’s department of psychology, is based on an examination of the data of 5,802 people aged 50 or more over 10 years. Nearly half – just over 2,400 – reported having MSK pain at the end of the period.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Cycling once a month and only doing light housework as well would be classed as 'sedentary'


'Alarming' gap in research

Dr Niederstrasser said: ‘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.

It’s well known that pain tends to be more common as we age, so it’s vital we look at what might help prevent and reduce it.'

In a University of Portsmouth news release on the study, Dr Niederstrasser said he found the lack of longitudinal studies focusing on the risk factors for chronic pain among older adults to be ‘alarming’.

‘For many complex reasons, the solution to the problem of chronic pain in older people has proved elusive,’ he noted.

These findings provide insights that may inform interventions aimed at reducing the risk of developing frequent musculoskeletal pain complaints [Nils Niederstrasser and Nina Attridge]

Dr Niederstrasser and his co-author Nina Attridge, who also holds a lecturing post at the university, believe their study is the first to link people’s experience of chronic pain to factors such as gender, body mass index, age and wealth over a long timeframe.

Dr Attridge said she hoped the findings would encourage the creation of chronic pain programmes that include regular vigorous physical activities and address weight loss issues, and focus on the needs of those on lower incomes.

Dancing is 'moderate' exercise

Activities classed as ‘moderate exercise’ in the study included dancing, walking, stretching and gardening. Mild activity included activities such as doing the laundry, vacuuming and do-it-yourself.

Dr Niederstrasser said: ‘Such activity – 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.' Someone who cycles once a month, for example, and only supplements this with light housework would still be classed as sedentary, he stressed.

Persistent pain was more common among

  • women, possibly because of hormonal differences
  • those who were obese or overweight, probably because extra weight adds a burden to joints
  • those who were less wealthy, possibly because higher disposable income may enable people to seek extra care (in addition to that covered by insurance policies or NHS provision services) to treat ailments and injuries


In their conclusion, Dr Niederstrasser and Dr Attridge note: ‘These findings provide insights that may inform interventions aimed at reducing the risk of developing frequent musculoskeletal pain complaints.'

They add: 'In particular, weight control, increasing physical activity and managing wealth inequality should be considered when developing preventative strategies to reduce pain.'

The study used data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.

To read the full version of the article, titled Associations between pain and physical activity among older adults, visit: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0263356

To read the news release referred to above, visit: https://www.port.ac.uk/news-events-and-blogs/news/exercise-harder-if-you-want-to-ward-off-pain-due-to-ageing



Author: Ian A McMillan
<< Back to News
By using our site, you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Cookie Policy and Privacy Policy.