A study published on Tuesday by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has concluded that moderate amounts of exercise can extend a person's life expectancy by up to 4 1/2 years, regardless of their weight. The study was one piece of a larger six-part body of research designed to look at different components involved in a person's overall cancer risk.
Researchers looked at data from more than 650,000 people, most of whom were age 40 and up. They found that people who got at least 2 1/2 hours of moderate exercise per week showed a clear increase in their overall life expectancy. Those who got even 1 1/4 hours of vigorous exercise displayed the same benefits.
Here is some of the key information to emerge from the NIH study regarding physical activity and life expectancy.
* The more exercise a person got, the greater the increase in their life expectancy, according to a press release regarding the study from the National Cancer Institute.
* The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends that people get at least 2 1/2 hours of moderate exercise per week. The study found that people who got even half that amount of moderate exercise per week still showed an increased life expectancy, albeit not as many added years as people who got the recommended amount of exercise or more.
* Steven Moore, who was the lead researcher on the study, highlighted the fact that the benefits of exercise on a person's life expectancy held true regardless of whether or not they were overweight, telling the AFP on Wednesday that "This finding may help convince currently inactive persons that a modest physical activity program is 'worth it' for health benefits, even if it may not result in weight control."
* The greatest benefits to life expectancy were seen in those who were considered to be in the normal weight range who were active. That combination of normal weight and activity level was found to add up to 7.2 years to a person's life, according to the study.
* The study had limitations. Stuart Olshansky, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois, told MyHealthNewsDaily on Tuesday that the fact that people were allowed to self-report their physical activity levels, as well as their height and weight, potentially made the results slightly less accurate.
* Olshansky also said, however, that the researchers who worked on the study "have provided a very convincing argument" that exercise can keep a person younger, longer, and increase their overall life expectancy as a result.
Vanessa Evans is a musician and freelance writer based in Michigan, with a lifelong interest in health and nutrition issues.
- National Institutes of Health