Background: With the increase of overall life expectancy in Japan, effective and beneficial lifestyle approaches and practices are crucial for individuals to have a long, productive and healthy life. Although previous studies suggest that exercise or sports, especially when performed with others, from midlife level have a positive impact on enhancing healthy life expectancy, there is paucity of information regarding these contexts and possible associations. The present study intends to clarify the relationship between engagement in exercise or sports among middle-aged persons and healthy life expectancy through an ecological study in all prefectures in Japan. Methods: We tabulated (1) the ratios of middle-aged individuals engaged in exercise or sports and (2) the different methods by which they are engaged in exercise or sports for each prefecture by using data from the 2005-2010 Longitudinal Survey of Middle-aged and Elderly Persons by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan. Weighted multiple linear regression analyses were performed by sex, using healthy life expectancy in 2010 of each prefecture calculated by Hashimoto (2013) as a criterion variable; indices of (1) and (2) of each year as explanatory variables; and age, living conditions, employment, and chronic diseases as adjusted variables. Results: For middle-aged males, the ratio of those engaged in exercise or sports in each year from 2005 to 2010 was positively correlated with healthy life expectancy; this relationship was found in the ratio of middle-aged engaging in exercise or sports "with families or friends". For females, such a relationship could only be found in the ratio of middle-aged females engaged in exercise or sports in 2008 and 2010, and those engaging in exercise or sports "with families or friends" in 2008. Conclusion: Prefectures with a higher ratio of middle-aged individuals engaging in exercise or sports, especially when done with families or friends, have longer healthy life expectancies. This was particularly evident for males. Thus, exercise or sports with families or friends in midlife seems to be more effective in promoting healthy life expectancy for males than females in Japan.
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