Does Being Physically Active Make a Difference in How Long You Live?

Does Being Physically Active Make a Difference in How Long You Live?

How can we be sure that physical activity and exercise are good for our health? To answer this question, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asked a committee to review scientific literature. The committee’s mission was to determine if enough evidence exists to warrant the government making physical activity recommendations to the public. The committee’s report, the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Report, 2008, summarizes the scientific evidence for the health benefits of regular physical activity and the risks of sedentary behavior. The report provides the rationale for the federal government’s physical activity guidelines.

The committee started by asking whether physical activity actually helps people live longer. The committee investigated the link between physical activity and all-cause mortality deaths from all causes by looking at 73 studies dating from 1995 to 2008. The studies included men and women from all age groups (16 to 65+) and from different racial and ethnic groups.

The data from these studies strongly support an inverse relation between physical activity and all-cause mortality; that is, physically active people were less likely to die during a study’s follow-up period (ranging from 10 months to 28 years). The review found that active people have about a 30% lower risk of dying compared with inactive people. These inverse associations were found not just for healthy adults but also for older adults (age 65 and older), for people with coronary artery disease, diabetes, or impaired mobility, and for people who were overweight or obese. Poor fitness and low physical activity levels were found to be better predictors of premature death than smoking, diabetes, or obesity. Based on the evidence, the committee determined that about 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of physical activity per week is enough to reduce all-cause mortality (see Chapter 2 for more details). It appears that it is the overall volume of energy expended, no matter which kinds of activities are done, that makes a difference in risk of premature death.

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The committee also looked at whether there is a dose-response relation between physical activity and all-cause mortality that is, whether more activity reduces death rates even further. Again, the studies showed an inverse relation between these two variables.

So, more activity above and beyond 150 minutes per week produces greater benefits. Surprisingly, for inactive people, benefits are seen at levels below 150 minutes per week. In fact, any increase in physical activity resulted in reduced risk of death. The committee refers to this as the “some is good; more is better” message. A target of 150 minutes per week is recommended, but any level of activity below the target is encouraged for inactive people.

Looking more closely at this relationship, the committee found that the greatest risk reduction is seen at the lower end of the physical activity spectrum (30 to 90 minutes per week). In fact, sedentary people who become more active have the greatest potential for improving health and reducing the risk of premature death. Additional risk reduction occurs as physical activity increases, but at a slower rate. For example, people who engaged in physical activity 90 minutes per week had a 20 % reduction in mortality risk compared with inactive people, and those who were active 150 minutes per week, as noted earlier, had a 30% reduction in risk. But to achieve a 40% reduction in mortality risk, study participants had to be physically active 420 minutes per week (7 hours).

The message from the research is clear: It doesn’t matter what activity you choose or even how much time you can devote to it per week, as long as you get moving! source: Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee. 2008. Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Report, 2008. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. through unintentional injuries (such as drownings and car crashes caused by drunken driving) and violence most effective way of dealing with disease and injury is to prevent them. Many of the lifestyle strategies discussed here help protect you against chronic illnesses. In addition, you can take specific steps to avoid infectious diseases, particularly those that are sexually transmitted.

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