Most people would say, if you asked them, that they want to live a long and active life. However, so few of us even go on to wonder what actions might be required to help achieve this aim. We all tend to think that just having the wish is enough. Well, sorry boys and girls, it just isn't. You're going to have to do something if you want to find the secret to prolonging your life, and I don't mean phoning up Indiana Jones!
Fortunately, there is a lot of information out there about exactly what to do to improve your chances of living longer. No one can guarantee that you'll actually live longer, as no one can predict how brave you are at driving, or using a chainsaw. None the less, a huge secret is lurking within the enormous wealth of information generated from hundreds of studies over the last 30 years. Want to know what it is?
Well, if you really want to do one thing to reduce your chances of dying prematurely, the best thing is. . . to take up exercising regularly. There, I've said it. It really is that simple. The most effective single thing you can do to live as long as possible is to start exercising. Surprisingly, it is more effective than losing weight, although most people who take up regular exercise will also lose weight into the bargain. Also, the combination of losing weight and starting exercising is even more effective than just exercising, but I promised to tell you what the best ONE thing was.
There have been many trials which confirm the link between regular exercise and longevity, but one of the most important looked at 9824 people aged 51-61 over a period of 8 years. The results were clear - even taking account of the varying health and weight of the individuals in the trial, those who exercised regularly enjoyed a 38% reduction in risk of dying during the trial. Even more impressive, those considered to have a high heart risk reduced their chances of dying by 45% during the study if they started exercising regularly.
Don't let your couch potato friends tell you that you'll have a heart attack or get knocked over by a truck if you start exercising. The study looked at ALL risks (i. e. not just those over which you have control). And even accounting for the alleged dangers of getting out of the armchair, those who exercised regularly had a lower risk of premature death than those who didn't.
Why does this work? Well it's simple statistics really. The fact is that regular exercise has a positive health effect on so many different conditions that, when you add the reduction in risk of death from each one together, you end up with a truly huge total reduction in risk. How about these for starters:
- Taking up regular exercise has been shown in a number of studies to reduce the risk of developing Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) and high blood pressure by around 50%. Regular exercise is also recommended for those who already have CHD as a way of reducing the risk of it causing a heart attack or in helping the recovery from one.
- The risk of suffering from a Stroke has been shown to be reduced by up to 40% by exercising regularly.
- Regular exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes by 40 - 60%, and is good for helping to control the disease if you already have it.
- Many studies have shown that regular exercise reduces the risk of contracting many different forms of cancer, including cancer of the colon (up to 40% reduction in risk), lung cancer (up to 30% reduction in risk) and breast cancer (up to 25% reduction in risk).
So how much exercise do you need to do to gain these benefits? Most studies show that the more vigorous the exercise the more the protective effect. Obviously no one can (or should) start working out vigorously after years of neglect. You need to start at a low level then build up. The aim is to build up to be doing the most vigorous exercise that you can manage 5 times per week. The most important thing though is actually to start!
As an indication of the incremental nature of the health benefits with increasing exercise, one major study suggested the following guide to effort versus benefit. For every 1000 kcal / week extra that you use up doing exercise, you gain a 20% reduction in risk of dying from CHD. Put another way, for a normal weight person, you can reduce your risk of having a heart attack by 20% for every 1¼ hours running or 2 hours cycling or 4 hours moderate walking that you add to your weekly activity.
Finally, don't ever think that it's too late to start. Many studies have shown that, even those who neglected their bodies for years reduced their risks from heart attacks, strokes, and cancers when they started exercising. So if you want to live as long as possible (and who doesn't?) start doing some exercise TODAY. Start easy, build up, and enjoy a long and healthy life as a result!
©2008 Rob Knowles
Starting to exercise is not as hard or as boring as many people think. The trick is to work out how to get yourself motivated, find something that you enjoy doing, and keep focused on your final goal. I found this out by trial and error, and then by studying lots of scientific trials. You can find out what I learnt at http://GetFitFeelGREAT.co.uk