A new study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has measured the effect that getting enough exercise can have on life expectancy, and the even greater effect that combining enough exercise with maintaining a normal body weight can have in adding years to your life.
The researchers found that getting at least the amount of exercise recommended by the official Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans published by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), combined with maintaining a normal body weight, added up to 7.2 years to the life expectancy of the study participants, compared to being inactive and obese.
The HHS Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity (such as brisk walking) or 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity physical activity or an equivalent combination, plus muscle strengthening activities at least two days per week.
The new study was published in the November 2012 issue of the journal PLoS Medicine.
The new study, led by Dr. Steven C. Moore at NIH’s National Cancer Institute (NCI), with an international team of scientists, followed more than 650,000 adults over a 10-year period. The study participants ranged in age from 40 to 90.
The participants self-reported their levels of physical activity and their BMI’s. BMI (Body Mass Index) is a measure of one’s weight in relation to height, which determines whether one’s weight is considered normal, overweight or obese.
By the end of the 10-year follow-up period of the study, 82,465 of the study participants had died. The researchers used statistical analysis “to determine the years of life gained after age 40 associated with various levels of physical activity, both overall and according to body mass index (BMI) groups.”
The researchers found that people who exercised an amount equivalent to brisk walking for 75 minutes per week (only half of the HHS-recommended level of exercise) gained 1.8 years in life expectancy, compared to those who reported no exercise.
People who met the Physical Activity Guidelines of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) by doing exercise equivalent to at least 150 minutes of brisk walking per week added 3.4 years to their life expectancy compared to those who were inactive.
People who engaged in physical activity equivalent to brisk walking for at least 450 minutes per week added up to 4.5 years to their life expectancy compared to those who were inactive.
When the researchers looked at the combined effect of getting enough exercise and maintaining a normal body weight (measured by BMI), they found an even more dramatic increase in longevity. Being active (meeting the HHS Physical Activity Guidelines) and maintaining a normal weight (BMI 18.5-24.9) added up to 7.2 years to life expectancy compared to being inactive, the researchers found.
“The combination of obesity and inactivity led to the worst outcomes. People who were obese and inactive had a life expectancy that was between 5 and 7 years shorter than those who were normal weight and moderately active,” NIH reported in its summary of the study findings.
However, the researchers also found that, regardless of your body weight, getting enough exercise does add years to your life expectancy. For those study participants who got exercise equivalent to the levels recommended in the HHS Physical Activity Guidelines, substantial gains in life expectancy were observed in each BMI group, the researchers reported.
People who were moderately obese but active gained about 3 years of life expectancy, compared to those who were of normal weight but inactive, the study found.
In summary, “More leisure time physical activity was associated with longer life expectancy across a range of activity levels and BMI groups,” the researchers concluded.
“In this study we saw that if you don’t do any activity, doing some will give you a benefit in terms of life expectancy. And if you currently do some activity, doing more will probably give you even greater benefits,” lead author Dr. Steven C. Moore was quoted in NIH’s summary of the study as saying.
“Regular exercise extended the lives in every group that we examined in our study—normal weight, overweight, or obese,” Dr. Moore emphasized.
“In conclusion,” the study authors wrote, “adding even low amounts of leisure time physical activity to one’s daily routine—such as 75 min of walking per week—may increase longevity.”
“This finding may help convince currently inactive persons that a modest physical activity program is “worth it” for health benefits, even if it may not result in weight control.”
“Physical activity above the minimal level—at recommended levels, or even higher—appears to increase longevity even further, with the increase in longevity starting to plateau at approximately 300 min of brisk walking per week,” the authors wrote.
“Finally,” they noted, “a lack of leisure time physical activity when combined with obesity is associated with markedly diminished life expectancy.”
“Together, these findings reinforce prevailing public health messages and support them for a range of ages and backgrounds: both a physically active lifestyle and a normal body weight are important for increasing longevity,” the researchers concluded.
The new study report in its entirety is available online in the November 2012 issue of the journal PLoS Medicine.
See also related information provided by the National Institutes of Health:
- Don’t Just Sit There!:
- 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (HHS):
- What Is Physical Activity?:
- You’re Never Too Old:
For further information about exercise, a healthy diet, and other lifestyle factors that promote wellness and prevent diseases, see the HelpingYouCare® resource pages on Wellness/ Healthy Living for Seniors & Caregivers, including:
- Exercise: Physical Wellness;
- Diet & Nutrition: Physical Wellness;
- Sleep, Hygiene, Quit Smoking & Other Healthy Practices: Physical Wellness;
- Activities to Preserve Mental Acuity: Intellectual Wellness;
- Social Interaction & A Sense of Connection With Others: Social Wellness;
- Other Areas of Wellness: Emotional, Ethical/ Spiritual & Vocational Wellness; and
- Healthy Living: Stories of Inspiring Seniors.
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