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A Little Exercise Can Mean a Lot More Years

by George Lampre

Research shows that even a small amount of regular exercise can contribute to a longer lifespan

By George Lampre

Health recommendations take many different forms, but there are a few points on which health care professionals usually agree. One of these is exercise. For conditions ranging from depression to weight loss, energy to joint pain, simple physical activity can make a big difference. In fact, studies have shown that regular movement can add years to your life.

Exercise and Longevity

In a 2012 study on lifespan and physical activity, people who walked briskly for 75 minutes per week experienced a lifespan 1.8 years longer than that of sedentary people. That’s an investment of just ten and a half minutes a day. The benefits multiplied with more activity: walking quickly for 150 hours per week increased life expectancy by 3.4 years, and test subjects who walked briskly (or equivalent) for eight hours a week gained an average of 4.5 years. That’s a lot more time to enjoy life!

Physical Activity and Body Weight

While most people pursue exercise in the hope of losing weight, staying active is beneficial regardless of your body fat percentage. In fact, regular exercise can significantly reduce or even eliminate the statistical health risks associated with higher levels of body fat. According to the National Cancer Institute, overweight people who met NIH guidelines for exercise tended to live for about as long as their normal-weight peers. Even half as much exercise can be helpful; overweight people who engaged in this level of physical activity actually lived longer than their normal weight peers who got the same amount of exercise. So even if your workout doesn’t result in significant weight loss, it’s still helping with your health. However, if you don’t notice any increase in strength or endurance, you may want to consult with a physical trainer or coach to get the most from your exercise routine.

Finding a Happy Medium

With statistical gains of this type, it’s tempting to throw yourself into an intense exercise program. After all, everyone wants to live longer! Statistics meet their match when it comes to real life, however. You may have scheduling conflicts, have a disability you’ll need to accommodate, or feel unsure how to begin. Since even minor increases in your activity level can boost your lifespan, it’s better to start small, then work your way up. Even getting moderate exercise will likely give you more energy overall.

How to Begin

The most difficult day is usually the second day of a new exercise regimen. On the first day we tend to be excited and determined, maybe even overdo it. By the second day we’re tired and don’t have that first-day enthusiasm to propel us forward; that’s the most important day to push through. By the time you’ve done it three times, you’re almost into a routine. Keep it up for a month and you’ll miss it when you don’t do it.

Exercise won’t fix all problems, of course. Just like a good diet, it can improve your chances of a long and healthy life, but it won’t prevent all health challenges. In fact, some people should avoid increasing their activity level too much. If you have joint problems or a disability that affects your movement, it’s best to play it safe. Lighter exercise can also help people who suffer from asthma, COPD or similar problems that are aggravated by exertion. While it’s always good to get moving, you’ll do best if you tailor your workout to your specific needs. And remember: if you’re in pain or feel strange while you’re exercising, take the problem to a trusted health professional.

It takes surprisingly little to experience the benefits of exercise. Even a brisk walk around the block three times a week is enough to help you extend your lifespan and feel a whole lot better. So what are you waiting for?