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Routine Exercise Found to Extend Life Almost Five Years

  • Jessica Berman

People who engage in regular leisure-time physical activities, such as walking, biking or swimming, can live years longer than those who don’t do any leisure-time exercise, according to a large survey of adults.

The study of more than 650,000 adults found that those who engaged in routine leisure time physical activity, even if they were overweight or obese, lived as many as 4 1/2 years longer, on average, than those who did no exercise.

The finding by researchers with the U.S. National Cancer Institute, or NCI, was based on data from six population-based studies of people between the ages of 40 and 90, designed to identify various cancer-risk factors.

Steven Moore, with NCI’s division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, and the study’s lead author, says there are several ways that regular exercise can extend a person’s lifespan.

“It reduces your risk of heart disease. It reduces risk of hypertension [high blood pressure], of hyperlipidemia [high blood cholesterol]; it has a number of benefits in terms of lung function," he said. "So, I think it has a very broad effect on different measures and indexes of health. And that comes out when you look at life expectancy.”

The U.S. government recommends that adults aged 18 to 64 get either 2 1/2 hours of moderate-intensity or 1 1/4 hours of vigorous-intensity exercise each week. That might range from leisurely walking to vigorous running or bike-riding, for example.

Researchers found that in general, people who got the recommended amount of exercise lived an average of 3.4 years longer, and life expectancy was extended by 4.2 years for those who engaged in twice the recommended amount of leisure activity.

Moore says investigators found even a moderate level of exercise, equivalent to 10 minutes of walking per day, was associated with a gain of about two years of life expectancy.

“To get the full benefit, you would have to do the equivalent of about 45 or more minutes a day of walking. And that was associated in our study with a gain of about four to 4 1/2 years of life expectanc,” Moore said.

But Moore says there was no significant increase in life expectancy among those who did more than 45 minutes of daily exercise.

An article on leisure time physical activity and life expectancy is published in the journal PLoS Medicine.
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