Being active during leisure time (instead of being the proverbial couch potato) can add precisely 4.2 years to your life expectancy, says a new study by researchers from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health. That is, even moderate physical activity (gardening, walking at a brisk pace — activities during which you can talk but not sing) can lower mortality and add years to your life.
Regular physical activity is associated with maintaining a healthy body weight and delaying or even preventing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. It also can play a part in promoting psychological well-being. This new study shows how it can also, literally, extend your life.
Under I-Min Lee, a professor at Harvard Medical School, researchers analyzed data from nearly 650,000 adults, most over the age of 40; all were enrolled in six different studies that investigated links between lifestyle factors and the risk of disease.
After taking other factors into account that might affect life expectancy, Lee and the other scientists found that longevity increased by 3.4 years for those getting the amount of physical activity recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This would be 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity per week or 1.25 hours of vigorous physical activity (running, swimming fast and other activities during which you can only say a few words without stopping for a breath) per week.
Notably, those who said they engaged in twice the recommended amount of physical activity in their leisure time gained 4.2 years of life expectancy. Even getting low levels of physical activity resulted in a small increase in life expectancy, of 1.8 years.
In other words, engaging in even a modest amount of physical activity can extend one’s longevity, even for those with health concerns such as obesity. The researchers also looked at how life expectancy was affected by a combination of obesity and activity and found that being active “helped to mitigate some of the harm.” But, for those who were both obese and inactive, life expectancy was shortened by five to seven years.
As the study underscores, “this result [of increased life expectancy] may help convince currently inactive people that a modest physical activity program may have health benefits, even if it does not result in weight loss.” Too many of us are just too sedentary in our habits:
Worryingly, people in both developed and developing countries are becoming increasingly physically inactive. People are sitting at desks all day instead of doing manual labor; they are driving to work in cars instead of walking or cycling; and they are participating in fewer leisure time physical activities.
Thanks (or maybe not) to the internet, we no longer need to step outside our houses, or even get up from our desks, to buy groceries, shoes, computers, you name it. We point and click to purchase music and see movies, rather than take ourselves to stores or cinemas. Even some in the technology community are calling for childrento turn off their machines and do something else. It’s a request that we could all take heed of, to hit the “off” button and go for a walk or, if we can, a good-paced run.
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