I know you’re probably busy bustling around today, preparing for your Thanksgiving feast with family and friends. But take some time out for yourself today — and every day — and go for a light walk. A new study shows a 25-minute daily walk adds significantly to your lifespan.
As you know, I recommend engaging in regular, light-to-moderate physical activity. I based this recommendation on my understanding of human biology and physiology, clinical observations, and increasing numbers of studies that link light-to-moderate exercise with increased longevity.
Of course, I also used a healthy dose of common sense.
For example, long before we had detailed studies showing extreme exercise damages your joints and heart muscle, it just made sense: Engaging in extreme exercise simply isn’t good for the body. I understood that premise for 40 years. Over the past three years, the research finally started to show what I suspected all along.
Of course, one purpose of research is to put some real numbers onto sensible recommendations. For example, it’s good to know just how long you need to walk to increase longevity. Such numbers are the stuff of accountants, actuaries, and fiduciary, financial, and retirement planners. So, at least for their benefit, we can sometimes put some real numbers onto really sensible recommendations.
Slash your risk of a deadly heart attack in half
In the new study, researchers at Saarland University in Germany found that a daily 25-minute walk adds seven years to your lifespan. Plus, it cuts the risk of dying from heart attack by half.
And the evidence shows, it’s never too late to start.
Even people who didn’t start their exercise habit until age 70 still gained benefits from daily, short walks, including lowering their risk of developing abnormal heartbeats.
For this study, researchers followed a group of inactive but healthy people who began a regular, moderate exercise program. The forms of exercise assessed included aerobic, interval, and strength training.
After just six months of regular exercise, exercise clearly conferred many beneficial effects, including repair of old DNA.
Why you need some exercise every day
The study helped researchers understand why physical activity positively affects the aging process. It also appears that current activity is more important than any past levels of exercise and activity earlier in life.
We could even say physical activity is like a water-soluble vitamin — you need to take some every day and can’t really “store” it up. It’s not like a fat-soluble vitamin, which you can accumulate over time and store “extra” amounts for the future.
That finding about the importance of current activity is also consistent with my observations of many pro athletes and body builders. Sure — they were in top physical form with strenuous daily exercise during young adulthood. But then they began to completely fall apart in middle-age and suffer premature deaths.
It also gives a clue that too much of the wrong kind of physical exercise isn’t particularly healthy after all. In addition, as I reported two years ago, too much repetitive exercise can lead to over-use injuries, especially in younger athletes during childhood and adolescence.
Clearly, real healthy aging should include regular, light-to-moderate exercise. This study shows exercise actually does add years to your life and even repairs old DNA, unlike those magic, “anti-aging” potions or pills with some supposed “secret” molecular mechanism.
Sitting isn’t the deadly sin it’s been made out to be
On a related note, another interesting study recently found sitting down isn’t so bad — as long as you also exercise regularly. This observation challenges the conventional recommendation that remaining seated for long intervals is bad for health. It also casts doubts on the new trend toward standing workstations, for example.
At Exeter University and University College London in the U.K., researchers followed more than 5,000 people over a 16-year period and reported finding in the International Journal of Epidemiology. (I published our findings with Nobel laureate Baruch Blumberg about the dangers of excess iron in this same journal.) The new research found no increased mortality risk from sitting at work, during leisure time, or watching TV.
The ensuing controversy over this finding seems to miss the point. One of the big objections came from health bureaucrats in the U.K. National Health Service who invested heavily in making careers out of changing work environments.
It’s simple — and we don’t need a national health bureaucrat to sort it out for us.
You need regular exercise some of the time — but not all the time. And you can sit when not exercising. (There are even exercises you can do while seated — although they are not my favorites.) And you needn’t exercise hours per day.
Swimming is my favorite exercise. It “works out” many muscle groups and increases deep breathing, while avoiding undue stresses on my joints.
But it looks like even a half-hour walk each day does the trick. You don’t need to jump up and down all day long like a jumping jack or waste hours in the local dirty gym in order to achieve good health and longevity.
Your body already has it all figured out
Exercise sensibly. Eat sensibly. Avoid toxic chemicals and drugs. And manage stress.
Then your body can repair its own DNA, neutralize anti-oxidants, and control chronic inflammation — all the favorite catchwords of the “anti-aging” squads with their magical molecular “secrets.”
There’s nothing magical about taking a walk. We also know having a dog is very good for health and longevity — and the mandatory walks that come along with having a dog confer physical and mind-body benefits
Doing regular housework, yardwork, spending time in Nature, and engaging in arts and crafts that involve physical labor all contribute to the healthy activity and movement your body needs to stay stronger longer.
I think I hear the strains of that old melody welling up — moderation in all things.
And take a walk with family and friends after your meal today. Happy Thanksgiving.
- “Brisk daily walks can increase lifespan, research says,” The Guardian (www.theguardian.com) 8/30/2015