TUESDAY, Dec. 11 (HealthDay News) -- A new study suggests that
physically active people are likely to live several years longer
than inactive people.
The findings don't say anything about whether those extra years
are good ones, and the limits of the research don't prove that
activity may guarantee longer life spans.
Still, the Canadian study adds more evidence that being active
pays dividends in the long run.
The biggest effect came in black women. Those who reported
getting at least two and a half hours of moderate activity a week
were anticipated to live nearly six extra years. And white men who
were active at age 20 were expected to live an extra two and a half
years compared to their couch-potato counterparts. But Hispanics,
for reasons that aren't clear, didn't get any gain from being more
Study author Ian Janssen, an associate professor who studies
physical activity at Queen's University in Ontario, said the
findings offer evidence that could convince the inactive to get up
and start moving.
For example, "one of the reasons [people] tell you that they
don't engage in physical activity is that it takes up so much of
their time," Janssen said. "We were able to show that if black
women engage in an hour of vigorous activity like jogging or
swimming, that would extend their lives by 11 hours" -- or 11 hours
for every hour spent exercising, he added.
It's no secret that activity and exercise are good for you since
they reduce the risk of certain types of disease. It has been less
clear what it does to life spans, especially in regard to people of
different ages and ethnicities.
In the new study, researchers examined American health
statistics from 1990 to 2006, including death rates and surveys
about physical activity, and extrapolated them. They reported their
findings online Dec. 11 in the
American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The study findings are a bit tricky to understand since they
examine only the possible effects of physical activity at one point
in a person's life, not throughout their lives.
For example, the study found that white women who were
physically active at age 20 were expected to live three years
longer than others. But that's based only on reports of how active
they were at age 20 -- it's not clear whether they had to remain
active over the rest of their lives to get those extra years.
As for older people, the study estimates that white men and
women get a lifespan boost of 1.2 and 1.6 years, respectively, if
they're active at age 80.
Hispanics appeared to gain nothing in terms of life span from
physical activity, although that could be because the surveys
weren't properly designed to ask questions appropriate to their
culture, Janssen said.
The findings also are limited because it's possible that
something other than activity -- such as a healthful diet --
boosted life spans in those who lived longer. The researchers did
try to account for that, however.
Dr. Mark Wahlqvist, a visiting professor at Taiwan's National
Health Research Institutes who studies physical activity, said a
wider Taiwanese study released last year showed that as little as
15 minutes of activity a day can make a difference in terms of
longer life span.
But will those extra years be good ones? Wahlqvist thinks so.
"It is very likely that they will be ones with better social,
mental and physical health," he said.
For more about
exercise, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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