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The Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH) commenced in Australia in 1996 when researchers recruited approximately 40,000 women in three birth cohorts: 1973–1978, 1946–1951, and 1921–1926. Since then participants have completed surveys on a wide range of health issues, at approximately three-year intervals. This overview describes changes in physical activity (PA) over time in the mid-age and older ALSWH cohorts, and summarizes the findings of studies published to date on the determinants of PA, and its associated health outcomes in Australian women. The ALSWH data show a significant increase in PA during mid-age, and a rapid decline in activity levels when women are in their 80s. The study has demonstrated the importance of life stages and key life events as determinants of activity, the additional benefits of vigorous activity for mid-age women, and the health benefits of ‘only walking’ for older women. ALSWH researchers have also drawn attention to the benefits of activity in terms of a wide range of physical and mental health outcomes, as well as overall vitality and well-being. The data indicate that maintaining a high level of PA throughout mid and older age will not only reduce the risk of premature death, but also significantly extend the number of years of healthy life.
Brown and Pavey are with the Centre for Research on Exercise, Physical Activity and Health, School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.