Will vigorous exercise make you live longer?

Posted by Ed 33 days ago


A few months back I wrote an article about the amount of exercise necessary to maximise life expectancy. That article, based on observational studies, concluded that you could get 90% of the longevity enhancing benefits of exercise with just half an hour of moderate intensity walking per day, which is nice for those, like me, who aren’t even remotely interested in intense sporting activities.
When the other boys were outside kicking a ball around, I was lying in my bed reading books, so any scientific evidence supporting that lifestyle makes me happy.

However, all the studies discussed in that previous article were focused on the total number of MET’s (metabolic equivalent task) performed per week. In case you don’t know what a MET is, here’s what I wrote about it in my earlier article:

One MET is defined as the amount of calories a person expends in one hour when at rest. Walking at a slow pace expends two METs. Walking at normal walking speed (3 miles or 5 km per hour) expends three METs.

Bicycling at average speed (11 miles or 17 km per hour) expends six METs. Running at a speed of 6 miles per hour (10 km per hour) expends 10 METs. Generally, activity that expends three to six METs is considered moderate intensity, while activity that expends six METs or higher is considered vigorous intensity.

In order to be able to compare apples with apples, the studies discussed in the previous article were just looking at total MET’s expended per week. This led them to conclude that optimal life expectancy is achieved if you do more than 35 METs per week (equivalent to twelve hours of walking at a normal pace) but less than 75 METs per week (yes, too much exercise is bad for you).

Those studies didn’t compare different intensities of exercise, so they didn’t say whether someone who expends 50 METs per week running will live longer (or shorter) than someone who expends 50 METs per week walking. That’s where a new study that was recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine comes in.

This was a big observational study, involving 400,000 people in the United States. The authors reported no conflicts of interest. In order to be included in the study, participants had to be over the age of 18, and they had to have a decent level of physical function (those requiring help with activities of daily life were excluded).

People with heart disease, stroke, or cancer were also excluded from the study, which is a shame, because it would be interesting to see whether people with serious health problems can benefit from vigorous exercise.

My guess is that they were excluded out of fear that their participation would confound the results – these people are often not able to perform vigorous physical activity due to their illness, and they also have a short life expectancy due to their illness. This could make lack of exercise look worse than it is if the effect isn’t corrected for.

Participants were selected at random from the US population and asked to fill out a questionnaire. The first participants were recruited in 1997 and the last participants were recruited in 2013.

They were then followed over time to see whether they died or not. The median amount of follow-up per participant was ten years, and the average age at the time of inclusion in the study was 43 years.

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Ed 33 days ago
Former elite athletes live longer than their brothers
On average, former elite athletes survive longer than their brothers. In addition, their self-rated health and health-related habits are better in comparison to their brothers at an older age. The study included in total 900 former elite athletes and their brothers.
On average, former elite athletes survive longer than their brothers. In addition, their self-rated health and health-related habits are better in comparison to their brothers at an older age. This was clarified by Master of Health Sciences (Sports and Exercise Medicine) Titta Kontro from the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Jyväskylä. The study included in total 900 former elite athletes and their brothers.

Kontro investigated whether all-cause mortality and the development of behavioural and biological risk factors differ between athletes and their brothers in later life.

" Across all age groups, former elite athletes survived on average 2 to 3 years longer than their brothers, but at an old age there were no significant differences in all-cause mortality. Former endurance sports athletes lived longer than power sports athletes. Correspondingly, endurance sports athletes' brothers lived longer than power sports athletes' brothers," Kontro says.

Former elite athletes estimated to have better health, and they smoked less and were physically more active than their brothers. However, there were no significant differences in mobility, physical or psychosocial functioning in daily life between former athletes and their brothers. The brothers showed evidence of a lower mood than the former athletes.

These results support previous research findings regarding the role of genetic or childhood family factors in determining high aerobic fitness and reduced mortality.

"Genetic differences between athletes and brothers, aerobic training for endurance elite sports and a healthier lifestyle may all contribute to reduced premature mortality. A healthier lifestyle is a key factor in preventing major chronic diseases and premature mortality. These findings encourage both athletes and non-athletes to engage in sports at an older age," Kontro explains.

This research article is part of Titta Kontro's doctoral thesis, which continues a long-term project on mortality, morbidity and health habits of former elite athletes. The project is carried out in collaboration between the University of Jyväskylä and the University of Helsinki.

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