A Longer and a Better Life

There is absolutely no doubt about it now: People who exercise regularly really do live longer. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine on November 14, 2005 looked at the consequences of different levels of physical activity (such as low, moderate, or high) on the total life expectancy of more than 5,200 middle-aged and elderly people, most already older than 50 years. The study concluded that if you get in a good workout almost daily (e.g., running 30 minutes five days a week), you can add nearly four years to your life. If you only engage in moderate exercise – the equivalent of walking instead of running for those 30 minutes – then you’re likely to live 1.3 to 1.5 years longer for males and females, respectively. The longer lifespan found among study subjects was largely attributable to a delayed development of heart disease, our nation’s leading killer. In this regard, men and women benefited about equally.

I have to admit that when I first read about this study, I thought to myself, “Doing moderate exercise five days a week will gain me only a year and a half extra?” To gain this extra time, I would have to walk moderately for 2.5 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, for most of my adult life (let’s say 55 years for the sake of argument), which means that I would have spent over 7,000 hours exercising, or about 300 24-hour days, in exchange for only 550 extra days. So, basically, I would have spent over half of my extended time exercising the equivalent of 24 hours a day. I guess if you enjoy exercising, that’s not a bad thing, but if you’re like the majority of people, you’re probably thinking that it is just not worth the extra effort.

Before you stay on that couch and vegetate some more, though, let me try to talk you off of it. This study showed that physical activity affects not only how long you live, but also how long you live a healthy life. Being more physically active can give you more time in a healthy state, free from a host of chronic illnesses that can make it hard for you to really enjoy your “golden years.” This study primarily assessed the impact of heart disease, and it showed that being active during your adult life prevents you from developing heart disease longer regardless of any other risk factors you have.

Remember, too, that if you have diabetes, you already have the equivalent risk of dying from a heart attack compared to someone without diabetes who has already had at least one heart attack or who has diagnosed heart disease. If exercising moderately can reduce your risk of dying even earlier from a heart attack caused by diabetes, then you may have far more to gain from exercising than your non-diabetic friends and relatives. Diabetes has the potential to rob you, on average, of more than twelve years of your life, not to mention that it can also dramatically reduce your quality of life for more than 20 of those years. A lesser quality of life can result from many physical ailments, but in people with diabetes, it often results from a compromised physical capacity, partial limb amputations, loss of mobility, chronic pain, blindness, and chronic dialysis, in addition to heart disease. For women, the reality may actually be even worse: For each of the 38.5 percent of average females born in the year 2000 or later predicted to develop diabetes; diabetes will cut her life short by an estimated 14.3 years if she is diagnosed by the age of 40 and reduce her quality of life for 22 of the years she does live.

Maybe you’ve avoided exercising for all these years, and now you figure it’s too late to start. Wrong again! It’s never too soon to start following a healthy lifestyle, and it’s never too late to start exercising. The findings of this study reiterate that even for people who are already middle-aged, exercising more can add years to their lives. There’s just no getting around the fact that remaining inactive is the most devastating thing you can do to your long-term health, longevity, and hope of avoiding or delaying the onset of chronic diseases.

The benefits of physical activity extend well beyond its effects on your longevity. Recent studies have also found that exercise has payoffs for the mind, too, as it can improve feelings of overall well-being, reduce stress and depression, and cut the risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, all of which people with diabetes are more prone to experience.

The real problem is that many people – maybe yourself included – choose to ignore the scientific evidence, government recommendations, and public health campaigns to be more physically active. Even today most Americans fail to exercise regularly, and the number of people who exercise during their leisure time has still been dropping, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Just keep in mind that you do not have to be an exercise fanatic to reap the benefits of increased physical activity. Adding just a little activity to your daily routine can have major benefits. Experts suggest that even 15 to 30 minutes of walking each day is probably enough to gain substantial health benefits. So, just get up and get moving more in every way that you can every day!

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