July 8, 2024
July 8, 2024

What Is the Relationship Between Physical Activity and Longevity?

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What Is the Relationship Between Physical Activity and Longevity?

The World Health Organization defines healthy aging as “developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age”. Ten key factors influence healthy aging: physical activity, diet, self-awareness, outlook/attitude, life-long learning, faith, social support, financial security, community engagement, and independence.

Of these ten factors, physical activity has emerged as an important factor in maintaining health and longevity during aging. Regular physical activity increases life expectancy by up to 6.9 years. 

This article will delve into the relationship between physical activity and longevity, drawing on robust scientific research and expert analysis. Our aim is to simplify the science behind the effect of physical activity on healthy aging and offer practical strategies for incorporating physical activity into daily life.

The Science Behind Physical Activity and Longevity

This article will delve into the relationship between physical activity and longevity, drawing on robust scientific research and expert analysis. Our aim is to simplify the science behind the effect of physical activity on healthy aging and offer practical strategies for incorporating physical activity into daily life.

Physiological Benefits of Physical Activity

Regular physical activity profoundly impacts multiple physiological systems, improving overall health and reducing the risk of chronic disease. Physical activity benefits the cardiovascular system by improving heart rate variability, increasing blood vessel flexibility, leading to better blood pressure sensing, and improving heart and blood vessel function in middle-aged people.

Physical activity also benefits respiratory function and is associated with better cardiorespiratory fitness. One study found a positive association between moderate and vigorous physical activity and lung function, irrespective of whether participants were smokers or not.

Physical exercise benefits the musculoskeletal system, leading to higher bone mineral density and thereby reducing the risk of osteoporosis. It also enhances flexibility, better glucose tolerance, and an improved ability to perform daily activities successfully.

Regular physical activity significantly reduces systemic inflammation, a key factor in many chronic diseases. Exercise reduces fat mass and adipose tissue inflammation, major contributors to systemic inflammation. Even modest physical activity levels can lower inflammatory biomarkers and mobilize inflammation-countering T cells in muscles. A study conducted in Japan found that while people who reached centenarian or semi-supercentenarian (105-109 years) status did have longer telomeres, their inflammation levels were a key factor in successful aging.

Physical activity also affects metabolic health by enhancing insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. A study published in Nature Communications identified that specific metabolites, including nucleosides, amino acids, and lipids, were inversely associated with mortality, showing that better metabolic profiles can enhance lifespan.

Physical activity also triggers the immune system, promoting anti-inflammatory molecules that can prevent the onset of chronic disease. Exercise maintains and enhances T and B cell (antibody-making cells) function in older adults, improves vaccine efficacy, and restores an age-related decline in immune cell function. These studies suggest that physical activity contributes to improved longevity by enhancing various aspects of immune function.

Impact on Chronic Diseases

Moreover, physical exercise can help prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. By engaging in 150 minutes of physical activity per week, you can lower the risk of diabetes, with further reduction in risk through improvements in BMI. Incorporating even more physical activity can reduce the risk by as much as 30 percent.

Furthermore, multiple reports from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association have shown significant evidence to support the fact that those who are more physically active or fit are less likely to develop coronary heart disease than those who are sedentary.

Physical activity is also associated with a 13 percent reduced risk of bladder cancer, a 19 percent reduced risk of colon cancer, a 20 percent reduced risk of endometrial cancer in women, and a 12-21 percent reduced risk of breast cancer in pre- and post-menopausal women. Further studies have also found that physical activity lowers the risk of cancers in the kidneys, stomach, and esophagus.

Moreover, physical activity is crucial in managing chronic disease and significantly increases life expectancy. Individuals aged 45 with two or more chronic conditions who engaged in high levels of physical activity have a 14 percent lower risk of mortality compared to those with low physical activity levels. Additionally, physically active individuals could gain up to three years of life expectancy compared to their inactive counterparts. Physical activity also reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety, which are common issues for chronic disease patients.

Types and Intensity of Physical Activity

Aerobic Exercise and Longevity

Aerobic exercise promotes cardiovascular health and endurance by strengthening the heart muscle and improving circulation. Regular aerobic activity lowers blood pressure, reduces resting heart rate, and improves the heart’s ability to pump efficiently. Participating in over three hours of moderate-intensity activity weekly has been found to reduce mortality risk by 27 percent, with further reductions observed with 20 minutes of vigorous exercise 3 times weekly. Guidelines recommend that adults do at least 150 minutes per week of moderately intensive aerobic exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic exercise.

Strength Training and Longevity

Strength training offers many benefits for maintaining muscle mass, bone density, and metabolic health. Resistance training can significantly improve muscle strength in older adults, which is crucial for maintaining independence and daily function.

Strength training can also improve bone density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures. Weight-bearing exercises stimulate bone formation and slow bone loss, which is particularly important for postmenopausal women and older adults.

Metabolically, strength training improves insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism, helping to prevent and manage type 2 diabetes. It also boosts metabolic rate, aiding in weight management and reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome, especially in older women.

Practical recommendations for incorporating strength training include at least two days per week, targeting major muscle groups. You should perform 12-15 repetitions per set, gradually increasing weight and resistance.

Moderate vs. Vigorous Activity

Both moderate and vigorous activities offer health benefits, including reduced mortality risk and improved cardiovascular health. Brisk walking or cycling less than 10 mph effectively lowers blood pressure and improves heart function. Running or cycling more than 10 mph provides similar benefits but in a shorter time frame due to higher intensity. One study found that the overall volume of physical activity, regardless of type, is associated with a substantially reduced risk of premature death.

For optimal benefits, individuals should incorporate a mix of activities, such as speed intervals, into walking routines or alternate between moderate and vigorous sessions throughout the week.

Practical Strategies for Increasing Physical Activity

Overcoming Barriers to Physical Activity

Common barriers to physical activity include lack of time, social support, energy, motivation, skill, resources, and fear of injury. To address these challenges, individuals can use strategies such as building confidence, changing perceptions of barriers, and assisting parents in making exercise plans.

Incorporating Physical Activity into Daily Life

Physical activity can be integrated into daily routines though a variety of activities. For example, individuals can walk or bike to work, which has been shown to lead to an 11 percent reduction in cardiovascular risk. Small goals are important, such as aiming for an extra 500 steps daily for a week and then increasing by another 500 the following week to prevent burnout.

Tailoring Physical Activity to Individual Needs

Personalized exercise plans address individual needs, goals, and limitations, enhancing motivation, safety, and effectiveness. These plans consider factors like fitness level, health condition, and personal preferences, ensuring the regimen is achievable and sustainable. Healthcare providers are vital in assessing and recommending appropriate physical activity regimens. They evaluate health status, identify contraindications, and suggest suitable exercises, preventing injuries and optimizing health benefits. 

Summary: What is the Relationship Between Physical Activity and Longevity? 

The evidence overwhelmingly supports the strong relationship between physical activity and longevity. Regular exercise offers many benefits contributing to healthy aging and an extended lifespan. To reap these benefits, adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week, combined with strength training at least twice weekly. By prioritizing physical activity, individuals can significantly enhance their chances of living longer, healthier lives.

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