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In order to reach our goal of living to 120, we must make several healthy choices.  One of these choices is the decision to exercise.  In fact, physical fitness is the most important predictor for longevity.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), only 23% of Americans get any regular light to moderate physical activity.  In light of this information, is it any wonder that we are in the middle of an obesity epidemic?

Regular physical activity decreases our risk for many diseases including:  obesity, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, many cancers, anxiety and depression.

An ongoing study, (which began in 1984,) has been monitoring the difference between two groups of people at Stanford University: the ‘ever-runners’ and the ‘never-runners’.

The health of these two groups has been tracked for nearly three decades.  Not surprisingly, the data has shown that exercise is critical to health.  Over the years, compared with the never-exercisers, people who exercised regularly showed improved aerobic capacity, better heart health, increased bone mass, less inflammation, less physical disability, and even improved thinking, learning and memory.  They also lived significantly LONGER.  However, what most astounded the researchers, was the fact that the runners continued to have improved health and longevity even if they converted to less vigorous activities later in life.  By the 19th year of the study, 15% of the runners had died, compared to 34% of the of non-runners.

Many people claim that they do not have enough time in the day to exercise.  But let me reveal a little secret:  for every minute of exercise, you gain two minutes of longevity.  So you just do a little borrowing—you borrow from the future.  Take time to care for your body now, and it will pay off double in the future.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends two hours and forty-five minutes a day watching television.  However, time spent participating in sports, exercise, or recreation was drastically less: the average being only 18 minutes a day.  The numbers speak for themselves.  We have enough time to take care of our bodies; we simply need to prioritize it.

There have been several studies that show physical activity can help prevent many types of cancer, particularly colon and breast cancer.  Current cancer patients can also benefit from exercise.  For example, the most physically active breast cancer patients reduced their risk of cancer related death and recurrence by up to 40%.

Increasing your physical activity after the age of 50 has tremendous benefits.  Not only can it add 2-4 years to your life, but a recent study has shown that people who remain physically active remain disability-free for an additional 5.7 years.  So you will not only live longer, but the quality of your life will be better for a longer period of time.

Of all the health habit choices we can make, maintaining physical fitness is the most important.  In fact, given the choice between quitting smoking or staying fit, staying fit is slightly healthier and would lead to a longer lifespan.

It has been shown that burning as little as 500 calories per week has positive health benefits— That is the equivalent of walking only 5 miles/week.  However, this is a case of “If a little is good, more is better.”  We recommend walking 2-3 miles/day six days a week.  That would burn an extra 1800 calories/week; you would gain significant health benefits, as we have described, and be getting closer to our goal of living to 120.


About the Author

Randy Bivens, MD

Dr. Randy Bivens graduated from Loma Linda School of Medicine, completing first an internal medicine internship, then a diagnostic radiology residency. In addition to serving as president of Life and Health Network, Dr. Bivens is also president of Bivens Medical Corporation, an imaging consulting service.

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