Study: Exercise Can Help Older Women Live Longer

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Why is exercise important?  My recent sharepost that focused on the consequences of low activity levels for older women offers one way to think about it. The study suggests that middle-age and older women who work out but who remain sedentary during the day have a higher risk of many diseases as well as premature death.

    Now new research suggests there's another reason to get active! This study out of Canada suggests that being active can help you live longer. In this study, researchers looked at health statistics from the United States that covered the period from 1990-2005. This data included death rates as well as surveys about physical activity. Their analysis examined the possible effects of physical activity at one specific point in a person’s life and not cumulatively through the person’s life.

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    Just getting more activity can make a big difference. Take, for instance, non-Hispanic white women. The researchers analysis found that a somewhat active lifestyle (some moderate to vigorous physical activity less than 500 minutes a week) would translate into a potential 1.8 years gained for a 40-year-old, 1.7 years gained for a 50-year-old, 1.6 years gained for a 60-year-old, 1.3 years gained for a 70-year-old and 1 year gained for an 80-year old. And look at the changes in numbers if you move into an active lifestyle (defined as more than 500 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous activity): 2.9 years gained for a 40-year-old, 2.7 years gained for a 50-year-old, 2.4 years gained for a 60-year-old, 2.1 years gained for a 70-year-old, and 1.6 years for an 80-year old.

    Even bigger differences were accrued by black women. For instance, researchers found that if black women exercised vigorously for one hour, they would extend their lives by 11 hours. A somewhat active lifestyle led to 2.7 years gained for a 40-year-old woman, 2.5 years for a 50-year-old, 2.3 years for a 60-year-old, 1.9 years for a 70-year-old, and 1.5 years for an 80-year-old. And look at the benefits if these women adopt an active lifestyle: 5.2 years for a 40-year-old, 4.9 years for a 50-year-old; 4.5 years for a 60-year-old, 3.8 years for a 70-year-old and 2.9 years for an 80-year-old.

    Interestingly, similar results were not seen in Hispanic women. “Perhaps most of the physical activity of Hispanics is occupational in nature, and therefore not captured by the current study, which focused on leisure-time activity,” the researchers hypothesized.

    In its story about this study, Medline Plus pointed to another study out of Taiwan that indicated that as little as 15 minutes of activity daily has been linked to a longer life span.

    So what should you types of activities should you be doing?

    • Stretching. In the January 2013 issue of O Magazine, Dr. Mehmet Oz recommends that you need to start stretching in your 40s since poor flexibility in older people has been linked to arterial rigidity. This means that the heart is forced to work harder to pump blood in the body, thus potentially upping the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Dr. Oz points out that researchers believe that stretching may help make your arteries more flexible. He also noted that yoga has been found by researchers to aid postmenopausal women who are having difficulty sleeping.
    • Moderate-intensity cardio exercises. Dr. Oz also notes that women who are 60 and above especially need to focus on this type of exercise if their waist measures over 35 inches. That’s because – even if their body mass index is within the healthy range -- these women are at increased risk for a number of diseases, including type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.
    • Strength exercises – Obviously, these are important, especially to protect your bone health!

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

  • Janssen, I., et al. (2012). Years of life gained due to leisure-time physical activity in the U.S. American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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    MedLinePlus. (2012). Regular exercise may add years to life, study finds.

    Oz, M. (2013). Dr. Oz’s guide to getting healthy. O Magazine.

Published On: December 17, 2012