Lose the sedentary lifestyle — it could add years to your life

November 14, 2012 | by

The only walking many Americans do is to getting from their car to desk, desk to couch, and couch to bed (with frequent layovers at their refrigerator).

Yet even couch spuds may get motivated by a new study in the journal PLoS Medicine: Just a small investment of their time and energy could mean a substantial return on their life spans.

According to the study, people can take steps to improve their longevity through physical activity like brisk walking. A little more than an hour per week could translate to an added 1.8 years of life.

Stepping up the pace — walking at or more than the World Health Organization’s recommended 2.5 hours a week — could extend life by as much as 4.5 years.

The study also encouraged layabouts who manage to maintain a normal weight to hit the walking trail. A sedentary lifestyle is not discriminating and robs years from both the fat and the seemingly fit.

Photo of Leslie Bernstein

Leslie Bernstein, director of the Division of Cancer Etiology at City of Hope, says a sedentary lifestyle robs years from both the fat and the seemingly fit. (Photo by Walter Urie)

One of the first researchers to formally connect the dots between exercise and health was Leslie Bernstein, Ph.D., professor and director of the Division of Cancer Etiology at City of Hope.

In the early 1980s, she and her colleagues were the first to suggest that physically active men had lower colon cancer risk. Physical activity is now accepted as a means to lower risk of colon cancer among both men and women.

In 1994, she became the first to show a link between exercise activity and lowered breast cancer risk, and numerous studies throughout the years have validated her findings.

Bernstein is principal investigator for the California Teachers Study — involving 18 researchers and a cohort of more than 133,000 public school professionals. Since 1995, the study has examined factors affecting breast cancer risk and survival, including the importance of exercise. That topic will likely surface in her latest research collaboration, the Health of Women Study, as well.

Bernstein says the PLoS study reinforces her message that people need to start moving to protect their health.

“We know that people who maintain active lifestyles such as regular brisk walking or engaging in sports activities are less likely to develop heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, colon cancer, breast cancer and possibly several other types of cancer,” said Bernstein. “The health benefits are substantial.

“This pooled analysis documents the overall benefit on reduction in risk of dying and gives us a prescription to tell people: ‘Just push yourself to walk as fast as you safely can for several hours a week. The only cost is time.’”

It’s not a bad bargain: For only a few hours of effort a week, you’ll be buying back years of your life.