What motivates you to exercise? Do you need to lose excess weight or are you trying to maintain your goal weight? Do you want to lower your risk of developing certain chronic diseases like high blood pressure or heart disease? Did your doctor suggest that exercise would help to manage your elevated blood sugar levels? Are you trying to stay fit so you can run around with your kids or grandkids? Or did you hear that if you exercise regularly you can extend your life?
Recent studies seem to indicate that a regular fitness habit can certainly improve your health, and now a study published in October 2016 suggests that indeed, regular engagement with certain fitness activities can extend your life. But which specific exercises will help you to target that goal?
Reuters ran a pretty compelling headline describing these longevity-inducing fitness activities, Want to Delay Death?According to the research published in the British Journal and Sports Medicine, swimming, racquet sports, and aerobics seem to have the best impact at staving off death and prolonging life. The impact of these sports was especially provocative when it came to reducing risk of dying from heart disease or stroke. Not all sports activities offer the same benefits.
Research has shown that participating in sports, especially vigorous sports, can help to decrease mortality in middle-age individuals and seniors. But it was never clear which sports or activities can be of specific help in prolonging life. This study gathered data from 11 annual health surveys that were done in England and Scotland between 1994-2008. The pool of 80,306 individuals was, on average, 52 years old.
Two key questions were asked in the health surveys:
- What fitness or sports activities did you do for the four weeks prior to answering this survey?
- Was the activity vigorous enough to make you sweaty or breathless?
The respondents reported a range of activities including do-it-yourself home projects, gardening, and a variety of sports and fitness activities. The six most popular sports activities were: cycling, swimming, aerobics/keep fit, gymnastics/dance, running/jogging, football/rugby and racquet sports (badminton, tennis, squash).
The researchers noted that only 44 percent of respondents met basic guideline-recommended levels of physical activity.
After the researchers removed any influential factors that could affect the results, they extrapolated how specific sports or fitness activities improved mortality risk in participants, when compared to non-exercisers. They found that the risk of dying was:
- 47 percent lower in racquet sports players
- 28 percent lower in swimmers
- 27 percent lower among individuals who engaged in vigorous aerobic activity
- 15 percent lower in cyclists
They also found that cycling, running/jogging, and individuals who played football/rugby did not seem to benefit significantly if mortality was due to heart disease. Part of the explanation was that some of these individuals did not engage in these activities frequently enough to limit to impact risk of disease. Researchers also suggest that sports like rugby or tennis might be seasonal, so there’s a big gap during the year when these players may be more sedentary. Still, it makes sense that a regular fitness habit that involves vigorous activity would help to protect you from disease, and it’s reasonable to think it would also help to extend life.
The caveat is that if you are a regular cycler or swimmer, for example, you are then missing out on bone building exercise that requires weight-bearing exercises in order to build or maintain bone density. Aerobics classes, great for helping to raise and sustain your heart rate, allow people to typically take frequent water or rest breaks, so you may lack the consistency necessary to reap the longevity benefits.
Many experts suggest that it’s important to enjoy whatever exercise you choose, so you commit to a regular habit. Older, fitter adults experience greater brain activity while learning, so consistent exercise has a payoff at any age.
If you really want to support all aspects of your health, then it makes sense to include a variety of exercise so you cover all the bases:
Aerobics support heart health and longevity. Research shows that it also improves cognition in seniors.
Swimming and racquet sports promote longevity.
Weight training maintains muscle mass and helps to keep your metabolism at optimal calorie-burning capacity.
Yoga helps support vitality, maintain fluid muscles and joints and for balance as well.
HIIT, which involves shorter exercise periods that include intervals of thirty second to one minute bursts of very intense efforts, followed by a resting phase.Commit to a regular exercise habit and you can appreciate payoffs that include longevity among other health benefits. Just do it!!
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Amy Hendel, also known as The HealthGal, is a Physician Assistant, nutritionist and fitness expert. As a health media personality, she’s been reporting and blogging on lifestyle issues and health news for over 20 years. Author of The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, her website offers daily health reports, links to her blogs, and a library of lifestyle video segments.