A recent large-scale U.S. study has found a link between a high level of psychological well-being and levels of physical exercise in the over-50s.

Carried out by researchers from Chapman University, California, the team followed 9,986 English adults over the age of 50 over an average of 11 years.

Participants were assessed up to six times throughout the study, answering questions on the frequency and intensity of their physical activity both at work and in their spare time.

Based on their answers participants were placed into one of four categories: sedentary activity, low activity, moderate activity, and high activity.

The team found that those who had a high level of psychological well-being at the start of the study were also more likely to participate in higher levels of physical activity across more than a decade.

In addition, those who showed both high levels of psychological well-being and high levels of physical activity at the start of the study were also more likely to stay active.

Physical activity is already known to be an important factor for better physical and mental health. However despite its health benefits levels of physical activity are relatively low among middle-aged adults and decline even further with age, dropping substantially after age 75. Increasing levels of physical activity could be an effective way of reducing the risk of poor health later in life.

"Researchers have long studied how physical activity can lead to improved mood and feelings of well-being. However, less well understood is whether being happy and optimistic might actually encourage a person to be physically active," commented lead author Julia Boehm.

"These findings have implications for health care as medical professionals often have difficulty persuading adults to increase physical activity," added Dr. Boehm. "Results from this study suggest that higher levels of psychological well-being may precede increased physical activity; therefore, it is possible that psychological well-being could be a novel way of not only enhancing psychological health but also increasing physical activity."

The findings can be found published online in the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine.