Physical activity has major impact on life expectancy. Regular physical activity contribute to longer, healthier life. Compared to sedentary individuals, people who engage in regular physical activity, such as brisk walking, cycling, swimming, or other forms of exercise, tend to live longer. The term “regular” is key. Many of us engage in physical activity but not regularly enough to derive significant life expectancy benefits. That is, engaging in a physical activity once a week is nice but it will do little to extend life expectancy. Physical activity is like most medicines; It must be taken regularly to be beneficial. To derive benefits from physical activity, one needs discipline.
Engaging in just 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week is associated with a 28% lower risk of all-cause mortality.1 In addition to lowering all cause mortality, regular physical activity can lower the chance of dying from suicide by 72%2 from diabetes by 62%3, from chronic lower respiratory disease by 60%4 and from a cardiovascular disease by 48%.5
How Physical Inactivity Leads to Early Death
The body is meant to move. Thought evolution, the human body has evolved to walk, run, jump, pull, push, crouch, reach, swim and slide. If the body is not used the way it is meant to be used, it senesces. That is why physical inactivity is a major risk factor for premature death and chronic diseases. Namely, physical inactivity is estimated to be responsible for approximately 5.3 million deaths globally per year, which is equivalent to 9% of all deaths worldwide.6
How Physical Activity Improves Health
Below are the ways in which regular physical activity improves health and life expectancy.
Improves Quality of Life
In addition to reducing the risk of chronic diseases, physical activity also improves mental health, cognitive function and overall quality of life. That is because of the surge of endorphins that follows physical activity. Endorphins are a type of naturally occurring opioids produced by the body which have pain-relieving and mood-enhancing properties. The main function of endorphins is to inhibit the transmission of pain signals in the nervous system and act as a natural painkillers. The term “endorphin” is actually derived from “endogenous morphine,” because they are opioids that are produced internally within the body. Physical activity generally causes micro tears in muscle fibres that the body counter-acts with a micro doses of self-produced opioids. This underlies the feeling of euphoria and well being that generally follows workouts which greatly helps to reduce stress and improve quality of life.
Strengthens the Heart
Regular Physical activity increases the size and contractility of the heart muscle. This leads to a more efficient pumping of blood throughout the body, which reduces the workload on the heart and lower the risk of heart disease.
Regular physical activity increases the number and size of blood vessels in the body, which improves the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the cells and tissues. Angiogenesis (the growth of new blood vessels from pre-existing blood vessels) is a natural process that occurs in the body during tissue growth and repair. Specifically, during physical activity, the muscles require more oxygen and nutrients to meet the increased energy demands. This increased demand for blood flow can stimulate the growth of new blood vessels to supply the muscles with the necessary oxygen and nutrients. Picture how the branches of a tree grow towards the sun or how the roots grow towards the underground’s water currents. Increasing circulation throughout the body also helps distribute immune cells and antibodies more effectively, thereby boosting immune functions and enhancing the body’s ability to fight infections.
Reduces Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Regular physical activity specifically improves the elasticity of the blood vessels which reduces the amount of resistance to blood flow and decrease the amount of blood pumped by the heart with each beat.
Improves Blood Chemistry
Regular physical activity improves lipid levels by increasing the levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol and decreasing the levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol. This helps to reduce the buildup of plaque in the circulatory system and avoid life threatening occlusions.
Boosts the Immune System
Regular physical activity stimulates the production of immune cells including natural killer cells, T cells and B cells. These cells play important roles in identifying and attacking foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria, which helps the body’s ability to fight infections.
Cytokines are small proteins involved in immune cells signalling and communication which coordinates immune responses. They namely act as molecular messengers that regulate defence mechanisms like inflamation. Inflammation is good for fighting infections but chronic inflammation is damageable to the body. Regular physical activity decreases inflammation by regulating the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and increase the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines. Physical activity also decreases inflammation by decreasing adipose tissues, also known as body fat, which produces pro-inflammatory cytokines.
There is a dose-response relationship between physical activity and life expectancy. This means that every minute of physical activity contributes to pushing death back. Youlldie allows to visualize how physical activity interacts with other factors like gender, race, world region, income, education, alcohol, tobacco, sleep, blood pressure, body mass index and family history to statistically predict life expectancy.
- Moore SC, Lee I, Weiderpass E, et al. Association of Leisure-Time Physical Activity With Risk of 26 Types of Cancer in 1.44 Million Adults. JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(6):816–825. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.1548: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2521826
- Grasdalsmoen M, Eriksen HR, Lønning KJ, Sivertsen B. Physical exercise, mental health problems, and suicide attempts in university students. BMC Psychiatry. 2020 Apr 16;20(1):175. doi: 10.1186/s12888-020-02583-3. PMID: 32299418; PMCID: PMC7164166.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7164166/.
- Heidi Tikkanen-Dolenc, Johan Wadén, Carol Forsblom, Valma Harjutsalo, Lena M. Thorn, Markku Saraheimo, Nina Elonen, Heikki O. Tikkanen, Per-Henrik Groop; on behalf of the FinnDiane Study Group, Physical Activity Reduces Risk of Premature Mortality in Patients With Type 1 Diabetes With and Without Kidney Disease. Diabetes Care 1 December 2017; 40 (12): 1727–1732. https://diabetesjournals.org/care/article/40/12/1727/36907/Physical-Activity-Reduces-Risk-of-Premature
- Cheng, S.W.M., McKeough, Z., Alison, J. et al. Associations of total and type-specific physical activity with mortality in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a population-based cohort study. BMC Public Health 18, 268 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-018-5167-5
- Aune D, Schlesinger S, Hamer M, Norat T, Riboli E. Physical activity and the risk of sudden cardiac death: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMC Cardiovasc Disord. 2020 Jul 6;20(1):318. doi: 10.1186/s12872-020-01531-z. PMID: 32631241; PMCID: PMC7336483. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7336483/
- I-Min Lee,Eric J Shiroma,Felipe Lobelo,Pekka Puska,Steven N Blair,Peter T Katzmarzyk. Effect of physical inactivity on major non-communicable diseases worldwide: an analysis of burden of disease and life expectancy. The Lancet, ISSN: 0140-6736, Vol: 380, Issue: 9838, Page: 219-229. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(12)61031-9/fulltext