Exercise for a Longer Life

exercise_leisureNew research from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) found that people who exercise in their leisure time add as much as 4.5 year to their life expectancy.  It is common knowledge that being physically active has many health benefits, including helping to maintain a healthy body weight, maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints, promote psychological well-being, and reduce the risk of certain diseases and cancers.  According to the National 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity weekly, in order to reap the health benefits of exercise.  Moderate-intensity aerobic activity means that you’re working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat. Some examples that require moderate effort are brisk walking, water aerobics, riding a bike on level ground, or pushing a lawn mower.

The NCI researchers analyzed data on more than 650,000 adults, mostly age 40 and older. After taking into account other factors that could affect life expectancy, they determined that life expectancy was 3.4 years longer for people who reported that they got the recommend 150 minutes of moderate activity (or 75 minutes of vigorous activity such as running). Those who reported activity at twice the recommended level gained 4.2 years of life. In general, researchers found that the more physical activity reported, the longer the life expectancy. Even people who reported being active at just half of the recommended level added 1.8 years to their life expectancy.

The study also looked at how physical activity affected life expectancy in obese people. Obesity was associated with a shorter life expectancy, but physical activity helped to lessen some of the harm. Depending on the degree of obesity, people who were obese and inactive had a life expectancy that was 5 to 7 years shorter than people who were normal weight and moderately active.  I-Min Lee, MD, senior author of the study and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, concluded that “We must not underestimate how important physical activity is for health — even modest amounts can add years to our life.”

We spoke with Salt Lake City bariatric surgeon, Layton Alldredge, MD, about the findings. He said, “There is so much about long life and good health that is beyond our control. It is built into our genetics. Even so, we should pay attention to those things we can control—healthy exercise and weight control are two of the most important.”

Related Reading: Exercise and the Brain

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