Never Too Late to Start Exercising

Physical activity linked to longer life in older men

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Being physically active is good for you and lowers your risk of disease. It’s also been said that even your risk of death is lowered when you exercise.

A new study of thousands of men over 44 years of age looked at how much time being physically active adds to your life.

The researchers found that older men who were physically active lived an average of two and a half years longer than men who were not active.

"Plan ways to be physically active throughout the day."

Andrea Bellavia, a researcher and biostatistician from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, and colleagues conducted this study to examine the relationship between higher levels of physical activity and length of life in middle-aged and elderly men. The researchers set out to measure how much longer physically active men live, on average.

The researchers tracked 29,362 men ranging from 45 to 79 years of age. The study followed the men from January 1998 to December 2010.

The men’s physical activity levels were measured through a five-question survey that the men answered themselves. Participants were asked about physical activity at work from mostly inactive to heavy manual labor. They were also asked about household work, walking and biking, active and inactive leisure time and exercise.

Participants also averaged the amount of time spent sleeping per day.

From these answers, the study assigned each participant a physical activity score, measured in metabolic equivalents (METs) of energy expended per day. These scores were checked by collecting seven-day activity records from some of the men. The records matched the reported physical activity well.

The researchers then counted the number of deaths from January 1998 to December 2010 in this group of men. There were 4,570 deaths in the group, and the researchers gathered information on the cause of death.

The data on the causes of death were analyzed against the physical activity scores for each individual. The researchers also took into account age, smoking status, marital status, alcohol consumption and educational level so that these factors would not influence the results.

The researchers found that of the 4,570 deaths during the 13-year period, 30 percent were caused by cardiovascular disease, 30 percent were caused by cancer and 40 percent were caused by other causes.

The researchers measured activity in MET hours per day. A MET hour is a way to measure the intensity of exercise by comparing the body's energy spent during exercise to the body's energy spent at rest.

The study found that men with the highest levels of physical activity (average of 47.5 MET-hours per day) lived, on average, 13 months longer than the men with the lowest levels of physical activity (average of 36.5 MET-hours per day).

In men with very low physical activity levels, the researchers also found that for every 4 MET-hours of energy spent per day, the men lived an average of 11 months longer. The researchers stated that 4 MET-hours is equivalent to a brisk 30-minute walk.

Men who had average physical activity levels (41 MET-hours per day) lived 30 months longer than men with the very lowest physical activity levels (29 MET-hours per day).

Men who had almost no physical activity were compared to men who did different types of physical activity. They described different types of physical activity as being physically active at work, exercising more than an hour each week and having some physical activity in leisure. These active men lived 31 months longer than the inactive men.

The study's authors stated that a physically active lifestyle was linked to up to two and a half years of survival time.

"It's clear from this study that exercise extends life," Jack Newman, CEO of Austin Tennis Academy told dailyRx News. "It also seems to be not that big a jump to say quality of life also improves with exercise.

"One of our goals at the Austin Tennis Academy is to build fitness habits that will last a lifetime. From this study, we know that lifetime will be longer due to our students learning these habits," Newman said.

The authors noted that one weakness of the study was that all physical activity was reported by the participants. This could have resulted in some men being misclassified.

This study was published online August 8 in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

The study was funded by a Young Scholar Award from the Karolinska Institutet’s Strategic Program in Epidemiology and the Swedish Medical Society. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
August 12, 2013
Last Updated:
August 13, 2013