How Much Should You Exercise For A Longer Healthier Life How Much Should You Exercise For A Longer Healthier Life

How Much Should You Exercise For A Longer, Healthier Life?

  • Living a long and healthy life depends on various factors. Some factors are beyond our control, but many can be altered.

  • A recent study from the University of Jyväskylä highlights that while exercise is crucial for longevity, adopting other healthy habits could have an even more significant effect.

Several factors play a role in achieving a long and healthy life. Some, like genetics and gender, are fixed. But many lifestyle habits, such as diet, exercise, stress management, avoiding smoking, and getting adequate sleep, can be changed.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, currently under peer review, suggests that while exercise benefits longevity, embracing other healthy lifestyle choices might have an even more significant influence.

Longevity: Exercise May Not Be A Factor On Its Own

The study led by a researcher from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland aimed to investigate the connection between leisure-time physical activity and mortality risk. The motivation for this research came from a previous study at the same university, which suggested that genetic factors might be responsible for the association between physical activity and mortality risk.

However, this contradicted findings from a study involving Swedish twins, which suggested that genetics did not influence the association. The researcher wanted to understand why these studies had conflicting results.

Additionally, the study discussed that while some past research indicated that exercise could reduce the risk of death from various causes and cardiovascular diseases, other studies, including one published in December 2021, did not find a significant reduction in mortality or cardiovascular disease incidence in older adults or individuals with chronic conditions. This suggests that factors other than exercise alone may play a role in determining a person's lifespan.

A Physically Active Lifestyle Is Linked To Lower Mortality Risk

For this study, researchers analyzed data from over 11,000 sets of adult twins in the Finnish Twin Cohort. They assessed the participants' level of physical activity using surveys conducted in 1975, 1981, and 1990. The participants were categorized into four groups based on their activity levels: sedentary, moderately active, active, and highly active. The researchers tracked the participants' mortality rates until 2020, covering 45 years.

The study's findings revealed that nearly 40% of individuals in the sedentary group had died by the end of the 2020 follow-up, which was the highest percentage among the four groups. In comparison, those in the active groups had a 15% to 23% lower risk of dying from any cause when compared to the sedentary group.

These results were unsurprising to the researchers, as numerous previous studies consistently pointed to a connection between physical activity and a reduced mortality risk.

How Do Other Lifestyle Factors Affect Mortality Risk?

The researchers considered various lifestyle factors like body mass index (BMI), health status, alcohol consumption, and smoking habits. When these factors were considered, the mortality rate for those in the sedentary group decreased to 7%.

Interestingly, the study also found that participants in both the passive and highly active groups experienced accelerated biological aging compared to those in the moderately active and active groups.

According to the study, the researchers believe that the reduced risk of death associated with long-term exercise is not solely due to exercise itself but also because it indicates an overall healthy lifestyle, contributing to a longer life.

Regarding future research, the researchers are interested in exploring whether the same patterns hold for specific causes of death, such as cardiovascular diseases. They also aim to investigate the reasons behind the accelerated biological ageing observed in highly active participants.

One Healthy Habit Does Not Counteract An Unhealthy Lifestyle

After reviewing this study, a family medicine physician pointed out that the study's conclusion aligns with the idea that physical activity's health benefits may reflect overall healthy behaviour rather than exercise being the direct cause of reduced mortality.

This concept makes sense because many people believe that engaging in healthy activities can offset the effects of unhealthy behaviours, known as "compensatory belief." For example, some might think that exercising can counteract the harmful effects of smoking. However, the study found that mortality rates in the sedentary group improved when factors like obesity and smoking were eliminated.

It's essential to understand that engaging in regular physical activity cannot fully compensate for an unhealthy diet, smoking, alcohol or drug use, or neglecting conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes.

Significant improvements in health worldwide have been achieved by following five straightforward measures: avoiding obesity, maintaining normal blood pressure, not smoking, managing diabetes, and treating high cholesterol. While regular exercise can provide additional benefits, it cannot completely offset the adverse effects of neglecting these proven health-promoting practices.

Some Exercise Is Better Than None For A Healthier, Longer Life

MNT also discussed this study with an interventional cardiologist, who noted that the study demonstrates that engaging in some level of exercise is linked to reduced mortality compared to a completely sedentary lifestyle.

The cardiologist mentioned that recent studies have indicated that the benefits of exercise seem to plateau after a certain point, such as around 7,000 to 8,000 steps a day, suggesting that more exercise doesn't necessarily translate to significantly more significant benefits.

Therefore, the key message is that even moderate exercise can benefit health; you don't need an extremely high level of exercise to reap the rewards.

The cardiologist also mentioned that one limitation of this research is that it focused on a specific population in Finland, which may not fully represent the diversity of people in the EU. It would be valuable to examine data from a more diverse population in the EU for a broader understanding of these findings.

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