Your Weekly Checkup: Exercising Can Help You Live Longer

The latest studies come as no surprise: the more fit you are, the better your chances for a longer life.

Elderly woman running up a set of stairs during a jog

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“Your Weekly Checkup” is our online column by Dr. Douglas Zipes, an internationally acclaimed cardiologist, professor, author, inventor, and authority on pacing and electrophysiology. Dr. Zipes is also a contributor to The Saturday Evening Post print magazine. Subscribe to receive thoughtful articles, new fiction, health and wellness advice, and gems from our archive. 

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In January 2018 I wrote about the importance of exercising and suggested that readers start the New Year with a resolution to exercise daily. Recent studies have underscored that recommendation, even suggesting that the risks of not exercising were the same or higher than smoking or having coronary disease or diabetes.

Cleveland Clinic researchers studied 122,000 patients who underwent stress testing and found that increased cardiorespiratory fitness was directly related to reduced long term mortality. There was no limit to the positive effects of aerobic fitness, with extreme fitness associated with the greatest benefit. This was especially true for patients older than seventy years and those with high blood pressure. Extreme fitness provided additional survival benefit over more modest levels of fitness, so that extremely fit people lived the longest.

In fact, elite performers older than seventy years had a nearly 30 percent reduced risk of mortality compared to high performers. For those with hypertension, the elite performers had a reduction in all-cause mortality of almost 30 percent compared to high performers. Elite performers enjoyed an 80 percent reduction in mortality risk compared to the lowest performers.

These results do not support the potential for cardiovascular risk in athletes exercising above a certain training threshold, and there does not appear to be an upper limit of aerobic fitness beyond which a survival benefit is no longer observed.

Older patients may also benefit from a reduction in overall frailty and the ability to maintain physical independence.

A second study of over 4,000 apparently healthy men and women self-referred for exercise stress testing were followed for 24 years. Each increase in exercise fitness was associated with a reduction in mortality from any cause for both men and women, and specifically from death due to cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Chart showing decreasing mortality risk from increased cardiovascular exercise

The second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans from HHS recommends that children 3 to 5 years old be active throughout the day, with at least 3 hours of daily active play. Children and adolescents aged 6 years through 17 years should strive for at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity, which can include anything that increases heart rate such as running or walking. Climbing on playground equipment, jumping rope, and playing basketball can also make this group’s bones and muscles strong. Adults should perform at least 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as fast dancing or brisk walking. Muscle-strengthening activity like push-ups and weightlifting is also recommended 2 days per week.

The results are in and they are unmistakable. Exercise is good for you. A daily workout will help you live longer and live healthier. So, Couch Potato, get up, stop watching television or fiddling with your computer, and go do it! Run, walk, play sports — it doesn’t matter what you do, but do something!

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