Physical Activity at Any Level Can Add to Life Expectancy

By Mary Jane Dittmar

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) physical activity “even if done at relatively low levels and regardless of body weight, can extend life expectancy.” The parent agency of NIH, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recommends that adults ages 18 to 64 perform regular aerobic physical activity for 2.5 hours weekly at moderate intensity (a person can talk but not sing during exercising) or 1.25 hours a week of vigorous intensity (a person can say only a few words without stopping for breath). This study was conducted by researchers led by the National Cancer Institute, part of NIH and appeared in the Nov. 6, 2012 edition of PLoS Medicine <>

The study involved more than 650,000 adults, most of them age 40 and older.

Among the findings were the following:

  • In general, more physical activity corresponded to longer life expectancy.
  • After accounting for other factors that could affect life expectancy, life expectancy was 3.4 years longer for people who reported they got the recommended level of physical activity.
  • People who reported leisure-time physical activity at twice the recommended level gained 4.2 years of life.
  • People who said they got half of the recommended amount of physical activity added 1.8 years to their life.
  • Steven Moore, Ph.D., NCI’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, noted: “Our findings highlight the important contribution that leisure-time physical activity in adulthood can make to longevity. Regular exercise extended the lives in every group that we examined in our study–normal weight, overweight, or obese.”
  • The relationship between life expectancy and physical activity was stronger among subjects with a history of cancer or heart disease than among people with no history of cancer or heart disease.
  • Physical activity helped to mitigate some of the harm of obesity, which was associated with a shorter life expectancy. People who were obese and inactive had a life expectancy of between five to seven years shorter (depending on their level of obesity) than people of normal weight and who were moderately active. The full NIH news release is at:

Moore SC, et al. “Leisure Time Physical Activity of Moderate to Vigorous Intensity and Mortality: A Large Pooled Cohort Analysis,” PLoS Medicine. November 6, 2012. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001335.


Keeping Your Brain in Good Shape

It should be no surprise that regular exercise and a healthful diet can help protect your mind as well as your body.

“Physical fitness and mental fitness go together,” says the Harvard Medical School Newsletter (Nov. 24, 2012). Among the benefits of exercise are the following: (as we probably already know) it reduces the risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke; it is good for the lungs (sending more oxygen to the brain); and helps nourish brain cells.  

Eating a diet of whole grains; fruits and vegetables; and healthy fats from fish, nuts, and healthy oils (the Mediterranean Diet, discussed in previous columns) also helps to protect the brain as well as produce health benefits for the heart. Harvard Medical School Newsletter, Nov. 24, 2012


Pets and Medication Errors

If you have a pet, be aware that pets are subject to the same risks from medication errors as humans. The Food and Drug Administration monitors mistakes that can harm animals as well as humans. For information on the types of medication errors that can occur in treating animals and ways to protect your pet from them, consult


From the Spice Shelf … The healthful benefits of turmeric (more specifically, an extract from turmeric) continue to be highlighted in the literature (see To Your Health, October 1, 2011). Recent research has shown that a group of women who took 25 milligrams of curcumin daily for eight weeks showed the same improvement in flow-mediated dilation (FMD) a common measurement of vascular heart health, as a group of women who engaged in aerobic exercise for that same time. The increase in FMD was about 1.5 percent, roughly equivalent to an 18 percent decrease in heart risk. The results were published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Previous research has shown that curcumin helps to rebuild brain cells after a stroke and may possibly help fight the plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer’s disease. It has also been reported to reduce joint pain and possibly even help fight cancer. North Star Nutritionals 11/15/12

Photos courtesy of


MARY JANE DITTMAR is senior associate editor of Fire Engineering and conference manager of FDIC. Before joining the magazine in January 1991, she served as editor of a trade magazine in the health/nutrition market and held various positions in the educational and medical advertising fields. She has a bachelor’s degree in English/journalism and a master’s degree in communication arts.



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