Want to live longer? Well, swimming, dance aerobics and racquet sports have recently been linked with the strongest life-extending effects in a recent British study. Researchers found that different sports were associated with different levels of benefit, and urged both doctors and government workers to incorporate their findings in public health interventions.
So what exactly happened? The study was an analysis of 11 annual health surveys conducted in England and Scotland between 1994 and 2008. A total of 80,306 adults were included, with an average age of 52. The survival of each person was tracked for an average of nine years, and during this time, 8,790 of them died. They were asked about how much exercise, and what type, they had done in the last four weeks, and if it made them sweaty and breathless. This means whether or not the exercise was moderate to heavy. Compared to those who had not done any type of physical activity, those who did racquet sports had a 47% lower risk of death from any cause over the average 9-year period. Swimmers and dance aerobic fans had a 28% and 27% lower risk respectively, and cyclists had a 15% lower risk of dying. These effects are pretty impressive considering the age of participants and the long study period. It may also control for other healthy habits commonly seen in people who exercise regularly, as they would be common across exercise types. Running and playing football were not linked with a reduced risk of death, unlike other studies where running was shown to be protective. However, it may be because of the nature of these sports, and the climate of the UK, as football is seasonal and neither are all that compatible with colder seasons that would prevent one from going outside. Lower risk of injury and possibly greater mental stimulation may be other factors.
Another long-term study also showed a significant benefit of exercise on mortality rates. This was the second part of the Oslo study, which followed thousands of men born between 1923 and 1932. Over 5,700 of the surviving men chose to participate again in a second health check in the year 2000, and were monitored for another 12 years. In 2000, their ages were between 68 and 77, older than the participants of the above study. After 12 years, the results showed that exercise of any intensity for at least 30 minutes, 6 days a week, was linked with a 40% reduced risk of dying from any cause - even though they were now aged between 80 and 89. Regular moderate-vigorous physical activity was shown to add 5 years onto their lives! Less than one hour a week of light exercise did not reduce the risk of death, but the same amount of vigorous exercise reduced it by 23-37%. The death rate for people who did more than an hour of light exercise per week was 32-56% lower. The overall results were said to match the health benefits of quitting smoking. Actually, a 2002 study of over 877,000 Americans showed that quitting at age 35 extended life by 6.9-8.5 years in men, and 6.1-7.7 years in women. Quitting at age 65 extended life by 1.4-2 years for men and 2.7-3.7 years for women. Another found that quitting extended life in women by 10 years; this was a long-term study of over one million women. On top of this, quitting smoking can make exercise more enjoyable by allowing the lungs to repair themselves.