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Physical activity (PA) has beneficial effects on older age physical functioning, but longitudinal studies with follow-ups extending up to decades are few. We investigated the association between leisure-time PA (LTPA) and occupational PA (OPA) from early to late adulthood in relation to later life performance-based physical functioning.


The study involved 1260 people aged 60 to 79 years who took part in assessments of physical functioning (Short Physical Performance Battery [SPPB] test, 10-m maximal walking test, and grip strength test). Participants’ data on earlier life LTPA/OPA (age range 25 to 74 years) were received from the previous studies (average follow-up 13.4 years). Logistic, linear, and censored regression models were used to assess the associations between LTPA/OPA earlier in life and subsequent physical functioning.


A high level of LTPA earlier in life was associated with a lower risk of having difficulties on the SPPB test (odds ratio [OR]: 0.37; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.24–0.58) and especially on the chair rise test (OR: 0.42; 95% CI, 0.27–0.64) in old age. Heavy manual work predicted difficulties on SPPB (OR: 1.91; 95% CI, 1.22–2.98) and the chair rise test (OR: 1.75; 95% CI, 1.14–2.69) and poorer walking speed (β = .10, P = .005).


This study highlights the importance of LTPA on later life functioning, but also indicates the inverse effects that may be caused by heavy manual work.

Kulmala is with the School of Health Care and Social Work, Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences, Seinäjoki, Finland. Ngandu, Lehtisalo, Levälahti, and Peltonen are with the Chronic Disease Prevention Unit, and Pajala is with the Welfare and Health Promotion Unit, National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland. Antikainen is with the Faculty of Medicine, Center for Life Course Health Research/Geriatrics, University of Oulu, Finland. Oksa is with Tampere University Hospital, Tampere, Finland. Rauramaa is with the Foundation for Research in Health Exercise and Nutrition, Kuopio Research Institute of Exercise Medicine, Kuopio, Finland. Soininen is with the Dept of Clinical Physiology and Nuclear Medicine, Institute of Clinical Medicine/Neurology and Laatikainen is with the Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition, University of Eastern Finland. Strandberg is with the University of Helsinki and University Hospital, Helsinki, Finland. Tuomilehto is with the Research Division, Dasman Diabetes Institute, Kuwait City, Kuwait. Kivipelto is with the Dept of Clinical Geriatrics, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.

Kulmala ( is corresponding author.