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Exercise increases life expectancy for normal-weight persons, says study

Image courtesy of Cory Couillard

A new study with 431,479 study participants has reinforced that an individual having relatively no weight troubles can be at risk of developing the same conditions as an obese individual without the proper amount of exercise. Researchers call the study a wake-up call for couch potatoes of all sizes.

Researchers found that 30 minutes of exercise can add an average of 3.5 extra ‘good’ years to one’s life. Higher intensity exercise was found to boast even greater results – an additional 4.2 years.

There is a stigma that overweight people are always sick and skinny people are generally healthy. The research highlights that one’s weight and body type do not always matter. Choosing a healthy lifestyle and implementing proactive, preventative techniques like diet and exercise work for people of all waist sizes. 

Obesity, BMI and longevity

Obesity is infamous for causing diabetes and heart disease. BMI is a ratio of an individual’s height to weight. A similar study has found waist size to be more useful than BMI in predicting the risk factors of disease. This system’s effectiveness has been under question as it fails to distinguish between physical fitness, muscle mass and the amount of body fat.

It should be no surprise that exercise is good for you and will help you live longer but sadly the number of inactive people are growing.

As many as one in six deaths can be linked to physical inactivity, according to another groundbreaking 2012 study published in The Lancet. Dr. I-Min Lee, the lead researcher from Harvard Medical School said, “Only about one quarter of the world’s population smokes, but about two-thirds are inactive.”

The new study that is published in the journal PLoS Medicine also notes that an obese individual could be metabolically healthier than a sedentary, normal-weight one. They found that life expectancy could soar with as little as 2.5 hours of moderate exercise and 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week.

"This finding may convince currently inactive persons that a modest level of physical activity is 'worth it' for health benefits, even if it may not result in weight control," the authors wrote.

Among the 431,479 study participants, the one’s with a ‘normal’ weight yet sedentary lifestyle were nearly twice as likely to die during the course of the study than the highly active overweight or obese participants.

The results of the study clearly demonstrate that exercise can offset some of the longevity loss that is commonly associated with tobacco use, diabetes, cancer and heart disease.  Being physically active specifically added back 2.5 years for smokers and 5.3 years for cancer patients. 

Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist that was not involved in the study, called the findings "very conclusive" due to the enormous study population and the strength of its findings.

"We have to set priorities with patients," Lopez-Jimenez said. "First and foremost is to get sedentary obese people to become as active as they can and not to use their weight as a measure of their success. Sometimes, we tend to focus too much on the weight issue and too little on the exercise part of it." 

‘Widespread laziness’

The findings of the study should not downplay the importance of other lifestyle factors such as reducing stress, improving diet and limiting exposure to toxins such as smoking and alcohol. One’s overall health is a combination of all items and neglecting one can cause disease to develop prematurely. 

A lot of attention in the recent past has been placed on one’s body weight as the primary problem while forgetting about exercise. Clinicians have found that it is ideal to be lean and fit but fit and fat comes in as a close second. The important word is fit. 

Our ‘widespread laziness’ is more worrisome than one’s BMI or pants size. 

"We have to get people to understand that it's not all about weight," said Dr. Robert Sallis, a sports medicine specialist with Kaiser Permanente. "Not everyone can lose weight. But everyone can get fit."

Physicians and public health officials can do more to improve the nation's health by recommending sedentary patients to get up and get moving, said study leader Steven Moore, an epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute.

"You can't lose 30 pounds tomorrow," said Moore, "but you can start exercising." 

Get ‘good health’ and lose weight 

There are two primary forms of exercise called aerobic and anaerobic. Simply these two terms mean “with 
oxygen” and “without oxygen”. Aerobic is the type of exercise that utilizes large amounts of oxygen via walking, jogging, running, biking and any type of exercise that is 15 minutes or more in duration. Anaerobic exercises are usually higher in intensity and shorter in duration.

Aerobic exercises have been found to be good for your heart, circulation and overall health but can be bad for actual weight loss.Stress hormones such as cortisol will stimulate appetite and increase fat storage. This is one of the reasons that one may struggle to lose weight even though they are exercising. 

Low intensity, long duration exercise also plummets testosterone and human growth hormone – two hormones that are necessary to build lean muscle.  

Anaerobic exercises that are higher in intensity and shorter in duration have a very different effect on the body’s physiology and hormone response. When this form of exercise is applied properly it is not only good for your heart, circulation and overall health but also good for weight loss.

Human growth hormone and testosterone is released in the body in direct proportion to the intensity of the exercise. Human growth hormone is a hormone that builds lean muscle and burns fat. 

One of the best characteristics of high intensity, short duration exercise is that it builds muscle. Muscle has an increased metabolic activity compared to fat and will fend off weight gain. It’s the amount of muscle – not age, gender or genetics that is the greatest determining factor for metabolism, future muscle development and fat loss.

The results of the study confirm that exercise is one of the most important criteria for longevity but sadly there are not enough people exercising. The study demonstrates that any type of exercise is good for one’s overall health but it may deter people if they are not reaching certain goals such as weight loss. 

High intensity, short duration exercise is the most effective form of exercise to balance hormones, reduce stress and lose weight. The outcome is a healthy, lean body. Start your New Year’s resolutions early, lose added weight and get physically fit in 2013.

Dr. Cory Couillard is an international healthcare speaker and columnist for numerous newspapers, magazines, websites and publications throughout the world. He works in collaboration with the World Health Organization's goals of disease prevention and global healthcare education. Views do not necessarily reflect endorsement.

Facebook: Dr Cory Couillard
Twitter: DrCoryCouillard

Article featured in New Times newspaper


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