A US study, conducted by Moore et al and published in the prestigious PLOS Medicine in late 2012 examined the relationships between leisure time physical activity levels, longevity and rate of mortality of 654827 individuals aged between 21-90 from America and Sweden and showed that exercise can indeed affect human life expectancy. In fact, the more exercise you do, the longer you live.
The world health organization recommends a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity exercise or an equivalent combination of both for health benefits. Moore et al found that a high level of leisure time physical activity is associated with lower risk of mortality and a longer life expectancy compared to people who do no exercise at all. Leisure time physical activity is the activity OUTSIDE the context of job, housework, transportation and other essentials of daily living. Working hard at your job is NO substitute for real exercise.
The study found that any leisure time physical activity is beneficial to your longevity and reduces the risk of mortality. People did leisure time physical activities at any levels below the recommended minimum experienced an average gain of 1.8 years of life expectancy compared to people who did not exercise at all. Keeping activity levels at or slightly above the recommended minimum would further reduce the risk of mortality and increased average life expectancy by 3.4 years. Doing twice the recommended minimum amount of leisure time physical activity would give a 4.2 year gain in average life expectancy and doing 3 or more times the recommended minimum would give a 4.5 year gain. The amount of life expectancy gained as well the reduction in rate of mortality from doing exercise appeared to plateau at around 2-3 times the recommended minimum level. The trends described above applied to all age groups, genders, racial backgrounds, education levels and BMI groups in the people tested albeit with slight variations.
The study also found that the benefit of doing leisure time physical activity is more pronounced in former smokers, and people with a history of heart diseases and cancer. Obesity (BMI: 30+) was found to be associated with a lower life expectancy in all physical activity groups compared to those with a BMI between 18.5 - 29.9 (normal weight and over weight). Obese people who did not exercise lived 7.2 years shorter than people with normal weight (BMI: 18.5 - 24.9) who did at least the recommended minimum level of exercise each week. However, the interesting finding was that class I obese people (BMI: 30 - 34.9) who did more than the recommended minimum level of physical activity had an average of 3.1 years longer life expectancy compared to people with normal weight but did no exercise at all.
So what do all these mean? The study shows us that any leisure time physical activity is beneficial to your health and longevity. In fact, the more exercise you do, the better. A lack of physical activity is associated with an increased mortality rate and reduced life expectancy, especially when combined with obesity. The world health organization recommends a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity exercise in order to be beneficial to health. Doing 2-3 times that amount has been found to be the most beneficial. Having an active life style is not just for the looks, your body will thank you for it.