The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee’s review concluded
that there is good evidence that physically fit and habitually physically active adults
are healthier and less likely to die prematurely than those who are sedentary. According to an article in Scientific American, “…being physically active is the single most important thing that most of us can do to improve or maintain our health.” The epidemiology of participation in sport strongly suggests that participants
derive health benefits and reduce mortality.
One estimate is that people who are physically active for about seven hours (420
minutes) a week have a 40% lower risk of dying early than those who are active for
less than 30 minutes a week. The recommended two hours and 30 minutes (150
minutes) a week (21.4 minutes a day) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (e.g.,
brisk walking at about 100 steps per minute) lowers the risk of premature death.
One estimate is that 250,000 deaths per year in the United States, approximately
12% of the total, are attributable to a lack of regular physical activity.
A recent study at the Cleveland Clinic considered the risk of death compared to cardiorespiratory
fitness.52 Over an average of 8.4 years, study subjects with below-average
cardiorespiratory fitness were 40% more likely to die of any cause than those
with above-average fitness. All-cause mortality was five times greater among those
with low fitness compared to those with “elite” fitness. The study authors concluded
that “Cardiorespiratory fitness is inversely associated with long-term mortality
with no observed upper limit of benefit. Extremely high aerobic fitness was associated
with the greatest survival and was associated with benefit in older patients and
those with hypertension.”
In some studies, moderate recreational activities were found to confer the same
health benefits as more vigorous activities.53 An 11-year study of 5,700 older men in
Norway (ages 68 to 77), published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found
that irrespective of whether the activity was light or vigorous, those who exercised
for 30 minutes six days a week experienced a mortality reduction of 40% and lived
around five years longer than those who were sedentary. The authors of the study
concluded that increased physical activity was as beneficial as giving up smoking in
reducing all-cause mortality.
A cohort study in the United Kingdom assessed physical capability with three objective
measures of physical capability: grip strength, chair rise time for 10 rises,
and standing balance time up to 30 seconds. Those who could not complete any of
the three tests had death rates more than 12 times higher than those who were able to
complete the tests. The adjusted hazard ratio of all-cause mortality for participants
in the lowest vs. highest quintiles (fifth) of physical capability was 3.68.
Analysis of the records of 55,137 runners maintained by the Cooper Institute found
that the risk of dying from any cause was 30% lower among runners compared to
non-runners, and the benefits were about the same regardless of the duration or
speed (intensity) of running. The runners had a lower risk of dying than those who
engaged in less strenuous activities such as walking. A follow-up study found that
runners had a 25% to 40% reduced risk of premature mortality and lived approximately
three years longer than non-runners. Improvements in life expectancy
leveled off at about four hours of running per week.
The benefits of even a small amount of low-intensity physical activity are striking.
The largest difference in health and longevity would appear to be between being
sedentary and any level of physical activity. Many, but not all, studies find that
higher levels of activity, both duration, and intensity, add additional benefits with a
dose-response pattern: greater intensity of physical activity lowers mortality more
than less intense physical activity. The harder the workout, the greater the health
benefits. For example, a Finnish study of twins designed to minimize genetic variability
found that over a 17-year time span, compared to a twin who was sedentary
and reported no leisure-time physical activity, on average, the occurrence of death
was 29% lower for a twin who was an occasional exerciser and 43% lower for twins
who were conditioned exercisers.
This blog presents opinions and ideas and is intended to provide helpful general information. I am not engaged in rendering advice or services to the individual reader. The ideas, procedures and suggestions in that are presented are not in any way a substitute for the advice and care of the reader’s own physician or other medical professional based on the reader’s own individual conditions, symptoms or concerns. If the reader needs personal medical, health, dietary, exercise or other assistance or advice the reader should consult a physician and/or other qualified health professionals. The author specifically disclaims all responsibility for any injury, damage or loss that the reader may incur as a direct or indirect consequence of following any directions or suggestions given in this blog or participating in any programs described in this blog or in the book, The Building Blocks of Health––How to Optimize Your Health with a Lifestyle Checklist (available in print or downloaded at Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble and elsewhere). Copyright 2021 by J. Joseph Speidel.