There is a large amount of evidence to support the beneficial effect of physical activity in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. However, it remains unclear whether physical activity levels have a significant effect on life expectancy or on time spent with and without cardiovascular disease, according to background information in the article.
Oscar H. Franco, M.D., Ph.D., of Erasmus M.C. University Medical Center Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and colleagues calculated the effects of different levels of physical activity on life expectancy and years lived with and without cardiovascular disease among people age 50 and older. They used data from the Framingham Heart Study, a cohort study that has followed 5,209 residents of Framingham, Mass., over the past 46 years. The researchers calculated the effects of low, moderate, or high levels of physical activity, adjusted for age, sex, smoking, and coexistent diseases - including cancer, arthritis, diabetes, left ventricular hypertrophy (enlargement of the left pumping chamber of the heart), ankle edema, and pulmonary disease.
The authors report that total life expectancy increased proportionally with higher levels of physical activity.
"Moderate and high physical activity levels led to 1.3 and 3.7 years more in total life expectancy, and 1.1 and 3.2 more years lived without cardiovascular disease, respectively, for men aged 50 years or older compared with those who maintained a low physical activity level," they write. "For women the differences were 1.5 and 3.5 years in total life expectancy, and 1.3 and 3.3 more years lived free of cardiovascular disease, respectively."
"This study shows that higher levels of physical activity not only prolong total life expectancy but also life expectancy free of cardiovascular disease at age 50 years," they continue. "This effect is already seen at moderate levels of physical activity, and the gains in cardiovascular disease-free life expectancy at higher levels are more than twice as large."
The authors point out that their study results underline current recommendations for physical activity, which call for even moderate levels of activity to enjoy the benefits of a healthier and longer life.
"The role that physical activity plays in cardiovascular risk management should be emphasized to achieve a worldwide implementation of an active pattern of life," they conclude. "Our study suggests that following an active lifestyle is an effective way to achieve healthy aging."
(Arch Intern Med. 2005;165:2355-2360. Available pre-embargo to the media at www.jamamedia.org.)
Editor's Note: This study was supported by grants to all authors from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research. Co-author Anna Peeters, Ph.D., was partly funded as a VicHealth Public Health Research Fellow.
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