New research identifies how many years exercise can add to your life — and demonstrates that it’s never too late to get moving.
You know exercise is good for you. But do you know how good?
Just 75 minutes of brisk walking per week can mean a gain of 1.8 years of life after age 40, compared to people who don’t exercise, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston report in the journal PLoS Medicine.
Those who completed 150 minutes of brisk walking a week (the amount recommended by the federal government and the American Heart Association) lived 3.4 years longer. People who spent 450 minutes or more brisk walking per week added 4.5 years to their life expectancy. These longevity benefits were seen across gender and body mass indexes, including for the overweight and obese.
But normal-weight people who were active saw the greatest benefit, researchers observed. A healthy-weight person who reached the federal government’s recommended 150 minutes of moderate activity per week gained 7.2 years of life compared to people who were very obese and completed no physical activity.
To quantify the benefits of exercise, researchers pooled data from six prospective cohort studies, examining more than 650,000 subjects for an average of 10 years — and analyzing more than 82,000 deaths. Because physical activity was associated with a longer life expectancy across a range of weights and activity levels, researchers say this supports the idea that it’s never too late to start exercising for a longer, healthier life.
Heart Health in Middle Age Boosts Life Expectancy
Exercise is not the only key to a longer life, a separate study of healthy living and longevity published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found.
Researchers at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago found that if you have optimal heart health in middle age, you might live up to 14 years longer — without heart disease — than your peers who have two or more risk factors for heart disease in middle age.
The risk factors evaluated were blood pressure, total cholesterol, diabetes, and smoking status. A person’s lifetime risk for heart disease was strongly associated with the presence of two or more of these risk factors in middle age.
“Those with optimal risk factor levels live disease-free longer,” said study author John T. Wilkins, MD, in a release. “We need to do everything we can to maintain optimal risk factors so that we reduce the chances of developing cardiovascular disease and increase the chances that we’ll live longer and healthier.”
The studied risk factors are part of the American Heart Association’s seven keys to life-long heart health, which are:
- Never smoking, or quitting more than a year ago
- A healthy BMI
- At least 150 minutes of physical activity per week
- Blood pressure below 120/80
- Fasting blood glucose less than 100 mg/dL
- Total cholesterol less than 200 mg/dL
- A heart-healthy diet, which includes at least 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables and three 1-ounce servings of whole grains every day; at least two 3.5-ounce servings of fish per week; less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day; and no more than 36 ounces of sugar-sweetened drinks per week