Public Release: 

Regular physical activity increases life expectancy even if overweight

Press release from PLOS Medicine


People who do regular physical activity, such as brisk walking, live longer than those who don't do any leisure time exercise, even when overweight, reports a study by international researchers published in this week's PLOS Medicine.

These findings are important because, according to the authors (led by Steven Moore from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, USA): "This finding may help convince currently inactive persons that a modest physical activity program is ''worth it'' for health benefits, even if it may not result in weight control."

The researchers from Sweden and the United States used information on leisure time physical activities and BMI (Body Mass Index, body weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared) from more than 650,000 people aged over 40 years in a combined analysis of 6 long-term studies (one from Sweden and five from the US).

They found that even leisure time physical activity at a level equivalent to brisk walking for up to 75 minutes per week was associated with an average increase in life expectancy of 1.8 years compared to those who did not exercise. However, leisure time physical activity at the level recommended by the World Health Organization (a minimum of 150 minutes of brisk walking per week) was associated with an average of 3.4 to 4.5 years longer life expectancy than no exercise. More leisure time physical activity continued to be associated with longer life expectancy when the subgroups of men and women, blacks and whites, and high school and college graduates were analyzed separately.

Overall, the authors found that less physical activity was associated with shorter life expectancy at all BMI levels, but being active and having a normal weight (BMI 18.5 - 24.9) was associated with a gain of 7.2 years of life compared to being inactive and obese class II (BMI of 35 or higher). However, being inactive and normal weight was associated with 3.1 fewer years of life compared to being active but obese class I(BMI 30.9).

The authors say: "adding even low amounts of leisure time physical activity to one's daily routine--such as 75 min of walking per week--may increase longevity."

They continue: "Physical activity above the minimal level--at recommended levels, or even higher--appears to increase longevity even further, with the increase in longevity starting to plateau at approximately 300 minutes of brisk walking per week."

The authors add: "Finally, a lack of leisure time physical activity when combined with obesity is associated with markedly diminished life expectancy."


Funding: Supported by the Intramural Research Program of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, National Cancer Institute (NCI), NIH. The NIH-AARP Diet and Health study was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the NCI. CLUE was supported by the National Institute of Aging, grant number: U01 AG18033 and NCI, grant number: CA105069. The US Radiologic Technologists study was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the NCI. The Women's Health Study was supported by grant numbers CA047988, HL043851, and HL080467. The Swedish Women's Lifestyle and Health study is supported by grants from the Swedish Research Council and Swedish Cancer Society. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests: I-Min Lee served as a consultant to Virgin HealthMiles and served on their Scientific Advisory Board (2007). The authors have declared that no other competing interests exist.

Citation: Moore SC, Patel AV, Matthews CE, Berrington de Gonzalez A, Park Y, et al. (2012) Leisure Time Physical Activity of Moderate to Vigorous Intensity and Mortality: A Large Pooled Cohort Analysis. PLoS Med 9(11): e1001335. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001335



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