Can exercise help you live longer? Well, in the past, it was assumed that exercise would improve life expectancy, but there wasn't a lot of good evidence for it. When it came to health and exercise, mostly, I'd hear people say “even if exercise doesn't help you live longer, you'd still have a better quality of life.” The debate of exercise and lifespan may been put to rest because of an interesting study that was published in 2011. This study seemed to show that not only could exercise extend the the human lifespan but – even better than that – a lot less exercise was needed than what you might think.
Exercise and life span study
This study was published in the August 16th 2011 issue of The Lancetand was titled ” Minimum amount of physical activity for reduced mortality and extended life expectancy: a prospective cohort study.”
This study consisted of 416,176 individuals from Taiwan (216,910 women and 199,265 men) who took part in medical screenings between 1996 and 2008. The people in the study completed questionnaires to determine how much time they spent doing physical activity per week. All participants saw their doctor at least yearly. This allowed the doctors to keep tabs on what the people were doing, diseases they developed etc.
On the basis of these questionnaires, the researchers put people in the following 5 categories:
- Inactive (not doing any exercise)
- Low activity (walking)
- Medium activity (brisk walking)
- High activity (jogging)
- Very high activity (running)
Over the years of the study, the researchers noted that – when compared to the inactive group – those who only walked 15 minutes a day 6 days per week, had a 14% reduction in the risk of death from all causes and had a 3 year longer life expectancy.
The researchers also found that each additional 15 minute of daily activity, (beyond the minimum of 15 minutes) further reduced all cause mortality by 4% as well as all cancer mortality by 1%.
These benefits of exercise were seen in both men and women and in all age groups AND even in those who had risk factors for heart disease.
On the flip side, those who were inactive had a 17% higher risk of mortality compared with those who only walked.
Do I just need 15 minutes of exercise per day?
While some may scoff at 15 minutes of exercise a day giving such fantastic health effects, researchers note that their hope with this study was to educate people about positive effects of more exercise and leisure time physical activity.
The authors admit that their study was not perfect. For example, since this was an observational investigation the results cannot completely be attributed to exercise. For example, maybe the people who walked, also ate healthier than those who did not exercise. Still, if this study is corroborated, its results are nothing less than amazing.
As a exercise physiologist , I know a lot of people feel that the recommendation of 30-60 minutes of exercise a day is too daunting to attain. This study I gives hope to those people who have talked themselves into a leaned helplessness when it comes to exercise. In other words, even a little bit of exercise – 15 minutes of walking – is better than nothing and the benefits may be far greater than most think.
In this study, I noticed that the researchers emphasized leisure time activities and not “exercise”. I liked that a lot. The word “exercise” sounds difficult to some people while “leisure time activities” is more easier to digest.
I think we need to alter the words we use when we communicate physical activity to people who are not used to exercise. I think if we can alter the words we use, we might do better at getting people to be more active.
What kind of exercise helps?
While this study looked at exercise ranging from walking to jogging to running, what really matters is doing what people enjoy. Walking is the easiest for most people but if they can’t walk, riding a stationary bike will be just as good.
Exercise in a pool is another example for people as well. Pool exercise is great for people with arthritis because it takes the stress off of joints.
If you belong to a gym – or are thinking about it – ask if the gym has an Upper Body Ergometer (UBE). This device – which reminds me of an upside down bicycle – lets people to exercise their upper body while seated. These devices are portable and can even fit in the home for those who dont want to go to a gym.
I think when it comes to exercise most people need to know that they dont have to run a marathon to reap the benefits of exercise. Just doing something – anything – is better than doing nothing at all.
What do you think?