Good news! Healthy physical activity is right within your reach (and grasp)

Earlier this week, I told you many doctors like to practice “medicine by the numbers.” They want to know your cholesterol number, your BMI, and your salt intake. But very often, these numbers are meaningless when it comes to your REAL health and longevity.

Current science shows we have far better predictors of your longevity.

First, there’s your gait–or how well you walk.

Without a doubt, your gait is an excellent predictor of longevity. So do everything you can to take a brisk walk every day. It will help you maintain a strong gait well into your 80s, 90s, and beyond.

Plus, in the March 2014 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter, I told you about a new combination supplement that helped men improve their gait, as well as their overall physical condition. (Subscribers to my newsletter can access this article in my archives by typing, “The future of men’s health growing in your yard” into the search box at the top of the page. If you’re not yet a subscriber to my newsletter, now is the perfect time to get started.)

Scientists are also now studying the connection between three simple physical tasks and longevity.

In one recent study from University College, London, researchers looked at three measures of physical capability: grip strength, chair rise time, and standing balance time, as well as a composite measure of all three.

Like gait, these measures reflect a number of capabilities. Including cognitive function, coordination, muscle performance, bone health, and joint health.

The researchers used data from the British Medical Research Council National Survey, the longest running birth cohort in the U.K., which includes 1,355 men and 1,411 women.

A trained nurse assessed the participants’ physical capability at age 53. Then, the researchers followed the participants over the next 13 years, between 1999 and 2012.

Participants who were unable to perform the three tasks–or who were in the lowest performing groups–had higher mortality compared to those in the highest-performing group.

To be more specific, those who couldn’t perform the initial chair rise test had a mortality rate of 20.5 percent. Men and women who had a “low” performance rate in the chair rise test had a 6.5 percent mortality rate. And those with the highest performance rate had just a 3 percent mortality rate.

Overall, the lowest-performing group had a mortality rate five times higher than the highest-performing group. These associations held even after the researchers adjusted for body mass index, socioeconomic status, lifestyle factors, and health status.

Researchers didn’t initially record underlying health problems that might have affected the participants’ performance at age 53. Although a later analysis showed many participants in the low-performing group had cardiovascular and musculoskeletal problems.

In a second study from Northwestern University in Chicago, researchers investigated light physical activities and disability in a population at risk for onset or progression of osteoarthritis of the knee.

They measured physical activity using an accelerometer in two groups: 1,814 adults aged 49 years or older with risk factors for knee osteoarthritis, and 1,680 adults with progression of the disease.

Participants who spent more time doing light physical activities had significantly lower incidence of disability and less progression of disability, compared to those who didn’t stay active. Plus, the differences became more pronounced over time.

The most active group had a 42 percent reduction in disability compared to the least active group. However, even those in the second-lowest activity group still had a 38 percent reduction in disability compared to the lowest group.

Clearly, even light physical activity is helpful. Likewise, we also know moderate exercise lowers the risk of chronic diseases.

Really, the biggest improvements come from just doing something, over doing nothing. Increasing the levels of physical activity from that initial starting point then adds some degree of marginal benefit. Just don’t over-do it. Excessive physical activity does become counter-productive. It potentially causes osteoarthritis and even damages the heart muscle. On Monday, I’ll tell you more about the little-known dangers of intense physical exercise.

In the meantime, as with most things, moderation is the key. Don’t be discouraged because you don’t have the ability, the time, or the mentality to be a marathon runner. A little light physical activity goes a long way. And you get the most benefits from just taking the first steps.


1. “Relation of physical activity time to incident disability in community dwelling adults with or at risk of knee arthritis: prospective cohort study,” BMJ 2014;348:g2472