How to live longer: The simple exercise shown to extend your lifespan
Ample evidence shows that regular exercise is a surefire way to boost longevity, because it lowers the risk of developing a wide range of deadly conditions.
Cardiovascular disease is one of the greatest threats to longevity, for example, but it can largely be prevented by maintaining high fitness levels and following a healthy diet.
While numerous studies demonstrate the health benefits of exercise in general or focus on specific groups of exercise, there is a growing field of research that is shedding a light on the specific forms of exercise that will extend longevity.
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One of those studies, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, makes the case for speeding up your walking pace.
The study found that walking at an average pace was found to be associated with a 20 percent risk reduction for all-cause mortality compared with walking at a slow pace, while walking at a brisk or fast pace was associated with a risk reduction of 24 percent.
A similar result was found for risk of cardiovascular disease mortality, with a reduction of 24 percent walking at an average pace and 21 percent walking at a brisk or fast pace, compared to walking at a slow pace.
Interestingly, the health benefits were most pronounced in older age groups, with average paced walkers aged 60 years or over experiencing a 46 percent reduction in risk of death from cardiovascular causes, and fast paced walkers a 53 percent reduction.
“A fast pace is generally five to seven kilometres per hour, but it really depends on a walker’s fitness levels; an alternative indicator is to walk at a pace that makes you slightly out of breath or sweaty when sustained,” said lead author Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis from the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and School of Public Health.
The researchers sought to establish the link between walking pace and all-cause, cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality.
To gather the findings, the researchers pooled together and analysed mortality records with the results of 11 population-based surveys in England and Scotland between 1994 and 2008 – in which participants self-reported their walking pace – the research team then adjusted for factors such as total amount and intensity of all physical activity taken, age, sex and body mass index.
“Walking pace is associated with all-cause mortality risk, but its specific role – independent from the total physical activity a person undertakes – has received little attention until now,” Professor Stamatakis said.
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He continued: “While sex and body mass index did not appear to influence outcomes, walking at an average or fast pace was associated with a significantly reduced risk of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease. There was no evidence to suggest pace had a significant influence on cancer mortality however.”
In light of the findings, the researchers are calling on public health bodies to promote walking pace as a simple and accessible way for people to help ward off developing life-threatening conditions.
Professor Stamatakis said: “Assuming our results reflect cause and effect, these analyses suggest that increasing walking pace may be a straightforward way for people to improve heart health and risk for premature mortality — providing a simple message for public health campaigns to promote.
“Especially in situations when walking more isn’t possible due to time pressures or a less walking-friendly environment, walking faster may be a good option to get the heart rate up – one that most people can easily incorporate into their lives.”
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The health benefits of exercise can be reaped at any age, according to research led by Alexander Mok, a doctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.
Mok and his team of researchers examined how changes in exercise levels over time affect a person’s risk of dying from any cause, as well as dying from specific conditions — such as cardiovascular disease.
The findings, which are the result of a large population-based cohort study comprised of almost 15,000 people, found that high levels of exercise and increased physical activity over time correlated with a lower mortality risk overall.
Significantly, the results suggested that even if someone decided to exercise after being physically inactive, they would still both their longevity.
The greatest longevity benefits were seen among individuals who had high physical activity levels at the start of the study and increased them even more with time. These highly active people were 42 percent less likely to die prematurely from any cause.
How does exercise improve heart health?
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, when done regularly, moderate-and vigorous-intensity physical activity strengthens your heart muscle, and this improves your heart’s ability to pump blood to your lungs and throughout your body, and as a result, more blood flows to your muscles, and oxygen levels in your blood rise.
The health said: “Capillaries, your body’s tiny blood vessels, also widen. This allows them to deliver more oxygen to your body and carry away waste products.”
Heart-healthy eating is also essential to longevity, and the health site recommends opting for the following to protect heart health:
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy products, such as skim milk
- Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, and trout, about twice a week
- Fruits, such as apples, bananas, oranges, pears, and prunes
- Legumes, such as kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, and lima beans
- Vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, and carrots
- Whole grains, such as oatmeal, brown rice, and corn tortillas
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