Every year, Americans spend hundreds of billions of dollars on nutritional supplements, special diets, and other exotic items meant to provide just one thing: a longer, healthier life. We’re seemingly convinced that the secret to living longer is just that – a secret known only to a few specialized doctors and other health care practitioners with dubious motives. But guess what? Research study after research study seems to demonstrate that the secret to living longer isn’t a secret at all. In fact, the answer can be distilled down to just two words: Get Moving!
At least, that was the inescapable conclusion after we read this article on the HealthDay website, written by reporter Steven Reinberg. The article describes the outcome of a study of more than 270,000 people in which an unmistakable connection was demonstrated between exercising more and living longer. But the best part, we felt, is that just about any level of physical movement lowers your risk of early death. It’s enough to make a person actually put down the remote and get off the couch!
12-Year Study Shows Dramatic Results
The bottom line from the HealthDay article is crystal clear. Of all the healthy habits we’re encouraged to cultivate as we age, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that moderate-to-higher-intensity movement is one of the most vital for a long, happy life.
“ A new U.S. National Cancer Institute study found older folks who played racquet sports lowered their risk of death by 16 percent over a 12-year follow-up,” Reinberg writes. “Running cut the risk by 15 percent. Daily walking, jogging, swimming laps and playing tennis are some of the sports researchers looked at, but, they said, any moderate physical activity done weekly will do the trick.” We think that last statement merits special emphasis.
It’s Never Too Late to Reap the Benefits
Not a big fan of exercise and afraid you’ve put it off too late? According to experts, you still have plenty of time to start reaping the benefits. Eleanor Watts, lead researcher in the National Cancer Institute study, says, “It’s never too late to start. So, if you’re inactive and you’re older, you can still reap substantial rewards by increasing physical activity.” As Watts emphasized, “Reaping the benefits of exercise is only a matter of starting.”
Watts told HealthDay’s Reinberg that exercise increases longevity in a few key ways. “[Exercise] reduces body fat, lowers blood pressure and reduces inflammation in the body. And there may well be other benefits that future research will uncover,” Reinberg writes.
The findings emphasized that exercise needn’t be a chore or a drudge-worthy burden. “Find a recreation activity that you like,” Watts said. “It doesn’t have to be intense. Even going for a walk for 20 minutes a day is really likely to be effective.”
Over 270,000 Older Adults Studied
The study was published online August 24 in JAMA Network Open . “For the study,” Reinberg explains, “[Watts’] team collected data on nearly 273,000 men and women between 59 and 82 years of age who were part of a diet and health study co-sponsored by AARP and the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The data showed that people who ran, biked, swam, did other aerobic exercises, played racquet sports, golf or walked to stay active had a 13 percent lower risk of dying during the study period, compared with those who didn’t exercise.”
As the study showed, the amount of benefit did vary somewhat depending on which sport the subjects participated in. “Playing racquet sports reduced the risk of dying from heart disease by 27 percent,” Reinberg writes – one of the highest benefits in the study. While the aerobic benefits of running are well-documented, runners actually saw their risk of dying from cancer reduced by 19 percent, according to the data.
Recommended Exercise Guidelines are Attainable
According to experts, it really doesn’t take much movement to see huge benefits. “The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults get 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity each week, or 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous activity,” Reinberg writes. That’s only half an hour a day, five days a week to start.
The National Cancer Institute’s Watts is quick to add that doing more than, while strenuous exercise lowers the risk of death even more, at some point adding more hours of exercise doesn’t produce a proportionate benefit. “The gains [of added exercise] were smaller,” said Watts. “You reach a point of diminishing returns.” In other words, more is not always better.
However, the really good news is on the other end of the scale, for those just starting to exercise moderately. Remarkably, “even getting less activity than the recommended amount has a benefit,” Reinberg notes. “Compared with folks who don’t exercise at all, those who do get in some physical activity may lower their risk of early death by 5 percent, the researchers found.”
Cardio Benefits and So Much More
The National Cancer Institute study created a stir because it went beyond the typical focus on cardiovascular benefits of exercise. Dr. Benjamin Hirsh, director of preventive cardiology at the Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital, reviewed the study’s findings and had this to say: “This evidence has been shown numerous times for patients with heart disease. But this is one of the few studies to show the benefits of increasing activity for both patients with heart disease and cancer. The biggest obstacle is getting patients to change their lifestyle and eat right and exercise.”
He adds, “It is following the basics of diet and greater activity that matter tremendously. The real challenge in medicine is trying to get patients to change their behavior. It is one of the most difficult challenges for physicians, even more than diagnosing and treating rare conditions.”
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(originally reported at https://consumer.healthday.com)