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Does Exercise Make You Live Longer?

by Dr. Stephen Chaney

Run Long and Prosper

If you are a fan of the original Star Trek series, you may remember the phrase “Live Long and Prosper”. That sounded great, but it was just a wish – a platitude. It said nothing about how you might accomplish the feat of living longer and prospering.

What if something as simple as increasing your exercise levels might help you live a longer, healthier life? A recent study provides pretty convincing evidence that exercise can increase longevity. If that is really true, maybe the proper phase should be “Run Long and Prosper”.

In my past “Health Tips From the Professor” I have talked about how hard it is to prove the value of any individual lifestyle change on improving our longevity – whether we are talking about more exercise, lower fat diets or individual nutritional supplements.

Most studies have too few subjects and last too short a time to show any significant effect. That’s why the study I’m featuring this week (Byberg et al, British Journal of Sports Medicine, 43: 482-489, 2009) is so remarkable.

How Was The Clinical Study Designed?

The study was designed to answer the question of whether exercise can actually help people live longer.

But what was remarkable about the study was the number of people enrolled in the study and how long the study lasted. The study enrolled 2,204 men aged 50 from the city of Uppsala Sweden in 1970-1973 and followed the men for 35 years!

At the beginning of the study the participants completed a survey on leisure time physical activity and were categorized into low, medium or high activity groups. Participants were re-examined at ages 55, 60, 70, 77, and 82 years and changes in physical activity were recorded.

Other information, such as body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, smoking status and alcohol use, was also collected at each survey. And, of course, the researches recorded how many of the initial participants were still living at each of those ages.

chaney-exercise-live-longerDoes Exercise Affect Longevity?

After adjusting for other risk factors (obesity, smoking, excess alcohol consumption, elevated cholesterol or blood pressure), the researchers found that men who reported high levels of physical activity from age 50 lived 2.3 years longer than sedentary men and 1.1 years longer than men who reported medium levels of physical activity.

They also looked at what happened to men who started at low or medium levels of activity and increased their exercise level during the study. After 5 years of increased activity there was no apparent benefit. But after 10 years of increased activity the risk of dying had been reduced just as much as if they had always been exercising at that level!

I find that last finding particularly significant because most studies of this type last 5 years or less. If this study had been concluded at the end of 5 years, you might be tempted to say: “Why bother. If I haven’t exercised before, there’s no point in starting now.” But, this study did last more than five years – so the conclusion was completely different.

The Bottom Line

1)    We’ve known for years that exercise reduces the risks of several types of diseases and improves the quality of life. This study clearly shows that exercise also helps us live longer.

2)    If you haven’t exercised before, it’s never too late to start. Just don’t expect instantaneous results.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.


Dr. ChaneyAbout The Author
Dr. Chaney has a BS in Chemistry from Duke University and a PhD in Biochemistry from UCLA. He is Professor Emeritus from the University of North Carolina where he taught biochemistry and nutrition to medical and dental students for 40 years.Dr. Chaney won numerous teaching awards at UNC, including the Academy of Educators “Excellence in Teaching Lifetime Achievement Award”. Dr Chaney also ran an active cancer research program at UNC and published over 100 scientific articles and reviews in peer-reviewed scientific journals. In addition, he authored two chapters on nutrition in one of the leading biochemistry text books for medical students.

 

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