The researchers looked at records of more than 5,000 middle-aged and elderly Americans and found that those who had moderate to high levels of activity lived 1.3 to 3.7 years longer than those who got little exercise, largely because they put off developing heart disease -- the nation's leading killer. Men and women benefited about equally.I walk to school 5 days a week, then swim a mile. At the end of the day, I walk home--about 25 minutes. Three days a week, I lift free weights. Then I walk about an hour and a half each day on the weekends.
"This shows that physical activity really does make a difference -- not only for how long you live but for how long you live a healthy life," said Oscar H. Franco of the Erasmus M.C. University Medical Center in Rotterdam, who led the study, published yesterday in the Archives of Internal Medicine. "Being more physically active can give you more time."
Franco and his colleagues analyzed data from the Framingham Heart Study, a well-known research project that has followed 5,209 residents of a Massachusetts town for more than 40 years, collecting detailed information about their lifestyles and health.
The researchers calculated the effects of low, moderate or high levels of physical activity on life span, accounting for the possible effects of factors such as age, sex, education, and whether they smoked or had serious health problems.
People who engaged in moderate activity -- the equivalent of walking for 30 minutes a day for five days a week -- lived about 1.3 to 1.5 years longer than those who were less active. Those who took on more intense exercise -- the equivalent of running half an hour a day five days every week -- extended their lives by about 3.5 to 3.7 years, the researchers found.
The findings show that even for people who are already middle-aged, exercising more can add years to their lives, Franco said.
"This shows it's never too late to start following a healthy lifestyle. It's never too late to start exercising," Franco said. "For example, instead of taking your car to your office, why don't you take your bike or walk? Physical activity is very important for a healthy lifestyle."
"At the end of the day, this is more evidence that the sedentary lifestyle is the most devastating to health, longevity and chronic disease development," said James O. Hill of the University of Colorado at Denver, adding that he hoped it might motivate more people to exercise. "Putting it in terms of life expectancy is something that's relevant to people."
While adding one to four years may not sound like a lot to some people, Franco, Hill and others said exercising regularly also enables people to live healthier lives, free from a host of chronic illnesses that can make it hard for people to enjoy their later years.
In addition, recent studies have also found that exercise has payoffs for the mind, too. It has been shown to improve overall well-being, reduce stress and depression, and cut the risk of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, several experts said.
Most Americans still fail to exercise regularly, and the number who exercise in their leisure time has been dropping, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Franco and others noted that this and other studies show that people do not have to be exercise fanatics to reap the benefits. Adding just a little activity to the daily routine can have major benefits.
"What we're talking about is small changes," Hill said. "We're telling people to get out and walk more. Fifteen, 20 or 30 minutes of walking each day is probably enough."
Compare Obesity: Epidemic or Myth? by PATRICK JOHNSON
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been fervently warning that we are in imminent danger from our expanding waistlines since the beginning of this decade. However, evidence has recently emerged indicating that the CDC’s warnings were based on questionable data that resulted in exaggerated risks.
Whatever side of the argument you are on, it is apparent that many in the CDC acted irresponsibly. However, despite the fact that the initial, exaggerated estimate came from people at the CDC, we should keep in mind that so did the corrected number. While this can be frustrating to the casual observer, it is also a testament to the corrective power of the scientific method.
Science is about provisional truths that can be changed when evidence indicates that they should be. The fact that scientific information is available to the public is its greatest strength. Most of us, for whatever reason—whether it’s self-interest or self-delusion—don’t view our own ideas as critically as we should. The fact that scientific ideas are available for all to see allows those who disagree to disprove them. This is what has happened at the CDC; the most current study has addressed the flaws of the earlier studies. It is true that many of those in power at the CDC uncritically embraced the earlier estimates and overreacted, or worse simply accepted research that was flawed because it bolstered their agendas. But that failure lies with the people involved, not with the CDC as an institution or with the science itself.
The evidence still shows that morbid obesity is associated with an increased likelihood of developing disease and suffering from early mortality, but it also shows that those who are a few pounds overweight don’t need to panic. What’s more, it is clear that everyone, fat or thin, will benefit from regular exercise regardless of whether they lose weight.