Is Physical Activity the Secret to the Fountain of Youth?

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increase life expectancy

People have been looking for the proverbial Fountain of Youth for thousands of years. That desire to feel young again, to live longer, to be healthier, is a basic human emotion. What if there was a simple way to accomplish those things?  Two studies give great insight into what that simple thing may be.

The Health Benefits of Physical Activity

Studies have previously shown the individual ways in which physical activity affects health positively; it improves muscle coordination, biomechanics, brain function and mood, circulation, oxygen intake, protects genetic information, and helps with the pain of arthritis, to mention only a few. We also know that taking a step back and looking through a wider lens, increasing physical activity can reduce the risk of an important constellation of issues related to inactivity and aging; metabolic syndrome.  This syndrome can predispose you to type 2 Diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular problems. The question is, do all of these positive effects of physical activity add up to increase your life expectancy?

Life Expectancy Studies

Now, two major studies examining the impact of physical activity on life expectancy were recently reviewed in a recent important scientific  article. The first study sought to look at the results of Activity verses Inactivity in a group of men followed from 1972 to 2012.  They initially recruited almost 15,000 healthy men born between 1923 and 1932. In 1973 the participants were asked to detail how many hours they spent per week in physical activity during leisure, and tracked yearly. Approximately 6,000 of those men were still alive in the year 2000, and that remaining group was then asked to describe how many hours per week they spent engaged in light to vigorous physical activity, and followed until 2012.  The results were significant. Not only did the amount of physical activity positively affect longevity in both cardiovascular and non-heart related issues, but the improvement in health from “adding in” physical activity even as late as 68 to 77 years old, had a positive effect equal to that of stopping smoking!

A second series of studies study followed the inverse – How detrimental to health are jobs in which workers are seated for the entire working day? It followed over 130,000 men, all of whom had sedentary desk jobs, for from 3-14 years. The results indicated that there was a direct increase in the risk of dying from metabolic and heart related problems in workers who spent most of their day sitting.

The upshot? Have we found the Fountain of Youth? Well, not the one Ponce de Leon was looking for, but these studies do a good job at showing that physical activity does have at least the potential to increase your life expectancy, and importantly, demonstrate that it’s never too late to start!

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