Physical Activity Increases Life Expectancy By 4.5 Years
November 7, 2012

Physical Activity Increases Life Expectancy By 4.5 Years

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Many experts and organizations have been advocating regular physical exercise–like the NFL´s Play 60, which encourages kids to be active for an hour each day, and every so often a study comes along that reinforces the benefits of exercise for people of any age.

According to a new report from an international team of researchers, recently published in the open-access journal PLoS Medicine, regular physical activity during leisure time can increase overall life expectancy by as much as 4.5 years.

"Our findings highlight the important contribution that leisure-time physical activity in adulthood can make to longevity," said study author Steven Moore, the National Cancer Institute, a part of the National Institutes of Health, in a press release. "Regular exercise extended the lives in every group that we examined in our study–normal weight, overweight, or obese."

Currently, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends that adults between 18 and 64 get either 2.5 hours of moderate intensity or 1.5 hours of vigorous intensity exercise per week.

To examine the connection between regular activity and life expectancy, the researchers investigated data from six different studies involving over 650,000 individuals, mostly older than 40, during a ten-year period. The researchers also differentiated among the different levels of physical activity that the subjects were performing as well as their body mass index (BMI).

After properly considering other lifestyle factors that could affect overall health, the researchers found that life expectancy was 3.4 years longer for people who said they got the HHS recommend level of exercise. People who reported physical activity double the recommended level gained 4.2 years of life.

The researchers explained that the findings pointed toward an overall trend linking higher level of exercise and increased life expectancy.

"We found that adding low amounts of physical activity to one's daily routine, such as 75 minutes of brisk walking per week, was associated with increased longevity: a gain of 1.8 years of life expectancy after age 40, compared with doing no such activity," said study co-author I-Min Lee, MD, an associate epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, in a separate release.

"Physical activity above this minimal level was associated with additional gains in longevity,” he added. “For example, walking briskly for at least 450 minutes a week was associated with a gain of 4.5 years. Further, physical activity was associated with greater longevity among persons in all BMI groups: those normal weight, overweight, and obese."

In looking at the subjects BMI, the researchers were also able to determine how obesity, life expectancy, and exercise were all interrelated. They found that obesity generally related to lower life expectancy; however, weekly physical activity during leisure time tended to mitigate some of the risk imposed by obesity. Those considered “class II obese,” or having a BMI of 35 or higher, show an average increase in life expectancy of 2.7 years.

"Our findings reinforce prevailing public health messages promoting both a physically active lifestyle and a normal body weight," explained Steven Moore, a research fellow at the NCI and lead author of this study.