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It’s probably safe to say that we all know that exercise improves your health.  It can get you in shape, help you lose weight, improve your balance, and reduce your chance of developing all sorts of nasty diseases like heart disease and diabetes. But in addition to just making your quality of life better, it also can extend it.  That’s right, people that exercise may actually live longer.

How can exercise help you live longer?

First of all, let’s consider the shear logic. We know that exercise lowers your risk of heart disease, cancer, heart attack, stroke and so on.1  Therefore, you are less likely to die from these illnesses and thus you’re likely to live longer.  However, a potential increase to your lifespan is not only due to a lower risk of getting deadly diseases.  Regular exercise causes cellular changes that make you look and feel younger.

You could live 11 years longer if you exercise regularly

Researchers at Brigham Young University examined the DNA of nearly 6,000 people and discovered that active people had longer telomeres than sedentary ones.2 Telomeres are the end caps on chromosomes that shorten with age and are a generally accepted measure of aging in the scientific community. This study showed a nearly 11-year increase in lifespan for folks that jogged or ran for greater than 75 minutes per week.  Nearly 6.000 individuals were part of the study, providing significant credibility to the research.  Consider the equivalent of 75 minutes of exercise each week for 50 years is only 4 months.  In other words, 4 months of exercise for 11 years of extended life.  Sign me up!

70 is the new 40

Another study looked at the heart, lungs, and muscles of active 70-year-olds, sedentary 70-year-olds, and active 40-year-olds. They discovered that active older men and women had heart and lung capacity as well as muscle strength comparable to individuals 30 years younger.3  This implies these folks in their 70’s have roughly the same disease risk as others nearly half their age!

Other exercise advantages

Of course, exercise is not just about living longer.  Maybe more importantly, it’s about quality of life.  Nowadays, medicine can keep us alive a lot longer than we normally would live.  For some, that means more misery and a reduced desire to live longer in the first place.  Here are some effects of exercise that will make you want to live longer:

  • It reduces inflammation. Aging is related with inflammation of muscle and other bodily tissues.4 This impact can be mitigated through exercise.5
  • Improves mood.  Many studies show the positive psychological side-effects from exercise, such as a decrease in anxiety and depression. 6
  • Helps you sleep better.  While there is a lot of debate about the details, the consensus is that people that exercise sleep better.7  Why?  This isn’t so clear, but just the fact that exercise tends to decrease body fat is probably at least part of the answer.
  • Boosts cognitive function.  Whether you have cognitive impairment or not, exercise actually helps your brain function better.8  This seems to be especially true among older folks.
  • Reduces memory loss.  People that exercise generally have better memories.9
  • Improved digestive function.  More stress means worse digestion, studies show.10  We already know that exercise reduces stress and thus improves digestion.  However, overtraining may induce the opposite effect.11
  • Strengthens your immune system.  Especially right now, with COVID-19, immune function is a subject of particular importance.  We already know that exercise improves immune function but we’re seeing a lot of people die from COVID.  Who are they?  A better question is, who AREN’T they?  Most often, they AREN’T regular exercisers.12

It’s never too late to get into shape.

A lot of people have excuses.  “I’m too busy.”  “I’m too fat.”  “I’m too old.”  Nice try, but you’ve got no excuse, even if you’ve been inactive for a long time. It is clear that even folks who are overweight or have been sedentary for a long time can extend their lives by adding modest physical activity to their daily routine.  So, instead of thinking “how CAN I fit exercise into my day,” think “how WILL I fit exercise into my day.”  You’ll live a longer AND happier life; it’s that simple.

How much exercise do we need to live longer?

To increase your longevity, you don’t have to become an outstanding athlete. Regular, moderate activity, such as brisk walking, has been linked to a significant increase in life expectancy. For example, exercising for 150 minutes or more each week extends life expectancy but even as little as 5 minutes per day can significantly reduce disease risk and add years to your life.  I’m not saying be a whimp about it, but even something is better than nothing.  The more you can exercise the better.  So, stop making excuses and get out there and do it.  Live longer and live better.