Physical Exercise Benefits Include Added Years of Life

physical exercise

Engaging in frequent physical exercise, such as walking, jogging, swimming and sports, can add years to an individual’s lifespan, even if that individual is overweight, according to a new study by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health. Individuals who engaged in more intense activity tended to increase their lifespans even further, though moderate physical exercise benefits were recorded also. The study found that individuals could benefit regardless of their gender, age, weight and status of health.

The Harvard researchers examined data from six existing studies involving health and exercise data for almost 640,000 people over the age of 40. Roughly 82,500 of the individuals died during a 10-year follow-up period. The study was the first to estimate changes in life expectancy based on body mass index, or BMI, and physical activity.

Big Benefits for Exercisers of All Body Types

The researchers found that, in comparison to individuals who were both obese and inactive, study participants who were of a normal weight and engaged in 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week lived an average of 7.2 years longer.

People of a normal weight who engaged in 150 minutes of weekly exercise lived roughly 4.7 years longer than people of a normal weight who did not engage in regular exercise.

People who were overweight and exercised each week for 150 minutes lived about 3.9 years longer than overweight individuals who didn’t exercise.

Finally, people who were obese and exercised moderately for 150 minutes per week lived about 2.7 to 3.4 years longer than obese people who avoided exercise. The amount of added life expectancy depended on the obesity of the individual.

Even 11 Minutes of Exercise Daily Extends Life

According to study researcher and Harvard epidemiology professor I-Min Lee, many Americans struggle with obesity and being overweight. However, the study indicates that overweight and even obese people can boost their life expectancy by engaging in regular physical activity, perhaps regardless of weight-loss results.

Overall, the researchers found that people who engaged in even 75 minutes of moderate physical activity each week lived an average of 1.8 years longer than those who barely exercised at all. On the extreme end of the exercise spectrum, individuals who exercised for 450 minutes each week increased their lives by an average of 4.5 years.

One Limitation, but a Very Convincing Study

According to University of Illinois epidemiology professor Stuart Olshansky, the study contained one limitation in that it relied on study participants to report their own weight, height and physical activity levels. In general, results are more accurate when data is generated in a more controlled setting.

At the same time, Olshansky described the study as a “very convincing argument” about physical exercise benefits, including increased life expectancies.

The Bottom Line

Even if you’re overweight or obese, you can gain years of life by exercising for as little as 75 minutes per week, according to a new Harvard study. Greater amounts of weekly exercise result in even more life extension, on average.

The full text of the study is available online in the medical journal Public Library of Science Medicine.

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