November 7/London/Zee News -- Children who regularly drink milk are physically fitter in old age, according to a new study which suggests that benefits of milk consumption early in life last through to later years.

Researchers from Bristol University found that elderly people who consumed the highest amounts of milk and dairy foods in childhood were able to walk faster and were much less likely to suffer problems with balance.

"This is the first study to show positive associations of childhood milk intake with physical performance in old age," researchers said.

The findings could be important because poor balance raises the risk of fractures in old age, the Daily Mail reported.

Consumption of milk, cheese and other dairy produce has long been thought to help build strong bones by providing much-needed calcium during childhood.

Researchers wanted to see if the benefits of milk consumption early in life lasted through to later years.

They studied 400 men and women aged from their mid-60s to late 80s. They had all taken part in a study which began back in the 1930s to analyze the affect of diet and lifestyle on long-term health.

As part of the study, the volunteers, who were then all young children, were tracked for their intake of milk and dairy goods.

To test if this had any impact on health in old age, the volunteers were tested for their walking speeds and their balance.

The study published in the journal Age and Ageing found that milk-lovers had 5% faster walking times than those who drank little or no milk.

They were also 25% less likely to have potentially dangerous balance problems.

The findings support earlier research highlighting the health benefits of drinking milk as a youngster.

Last year, a study found children who drank school milk were up to 40% less likely to suffer bowel cancer as adults.