Longevity’s Miracle Drug: Exercise?

Longevity’s Miracle Drug: Exercise?


Somebody once said that it’s not the years that you add to your life, but the life that you add to your years, that count. So while there are studies to prove that exercise can increase longevity, many would argue that it’s the wellness and joy brought about by exercise that truly matters.  

Some is better than none 

Having said that, beginning with the facts is always a good place to start. According to the experts, 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, every week, is the recommended dose for the average adult. However they also say that any exercise is better than no exercise, so it’s important to know that every bit does count.

In a Harvard University and a National Cancer Institute (United States) study that analysed the dose-response relationship between physical leisure activity and mortality, published in Jama Internal Medicine in 2015, 661 000 middle age adults were grouped according to how much exercise they did per week. Participants ranged from people who did no exercise at all to those doing up to 25 hours (10 x the federal health guideline of 150 minutes) per week. The results were interesting. 

Premature death can be mitigated by 31%

The group who did no exercise showed the highest risk for premature death, this was mitigated by 31% by the group who did 150 minutes per week. 

Interestingly, the study revealed that the optimal dose per week for increased longevity was actually three times the recommended average – and that 7.5 hours could decrease premature death by 39%. However, beyond this time period (450 minutes), the risk plateaued. 

“The real irony in all of this,” says Vagn Nielsen, CEO of one of South Africa’s preeminent retirement developments, Helderberg Village, situated in Somerset West, “is that once we get to retirement we finally have the time for all this exercise.” 

For anyone fortunate enough to reside at Helderberg Village, where there are private tennis courts, bowling greens, four swimming pools, a croquet lawn, gym, 9-hole golf course and a host of group exercise classes, including line dancing and yoga, there is no shortage when it comes to physical activity options.  

Back to the statistics -  in another study by the National Institute of Health – some bold findings emerge indicating that the average, socio-economically privileged person can extend their life by anywhere from 1.8 to 4.2 years, depending on the amount of exercise they do. 

Loosely translated, that means you gain an extra seven minutes of life for every minute of exercise. Whether you decide to take that with a pinch of salt or not, there is little doubt that by staying active in your old age, means a happier and healthier daily life. 

Being fit acts as the body’s alarm system
According to Trudi List who co-ordinates the Cardiovascular Rehab Programme for the Helderberg area at Helderberg Village and is a qualified aquatic instructor, exercise is a miracle drug. 

List, who holds a Master’s Degree in Cardiology and has a background as an Intensive coronary care unit nursing sister and cardio rehab professional, says that exercise is a form of protection.   

“Not only is exercise a protection, because a fit person will immediately notice if they are suddenly unable to do something, but being fit is an advantage for your heart, because it means you can do more with less effort. 

“Exercise helps by improving balance, strength, co-ordination, alignment, stamina, endurance and emotional well-being, thus preventing falls, injury, and delays the progression of chronic disease.

“And in the case of a heart attack, an exercise based rehab programme can dramatically reduce the risk of another cardiac event,” says List. 

Critical social and mental health benefits

Dena Solomon, who has owned the gym at Helderberg Village for 11 years and has a background in nursing, as well as several fitness qualifications including one specifically for senior fitness, says that the social aspect associated with exercise is invaluable for seniors.   

“Being physically active at Helderberg Village is encouraged and very easy to achieve as there are so many options available. 
The social aspect is another important bonus for many people who live alone, and who perhaps would not have otherwise had much activity and social contact. These classes are places where friendships have been formed,” says Solomon. 

There’s no doubt that exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, negative moods and improves self-esteem and cognitive function. It also alleviates symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal. 

“The benefits of exercise are immense and endless. It is life changing, self-motivating and improves one physically and mentally,” says Solomon.  

A natural disease preventer
Finally, the power of exercise cannot be overstated, says a Harvard Medical School article, which goes on to say that not only does exercise raise healthy HDL cholesterol levels and reduce unhealthy LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, but the other benefits of lowering blood pressure and sugar levels, as well as burning fat, all assist in preventing heart disease. 

It goes on to say that exercise keeps blood vessels throughout the body healthy and can reduce the risk of stroke, Alzheimer’s and Dementia, while there is also evidence to suggest a significant lowering of both colon and lung cancer risk. 

So whether longevity or quality of life is your goal, it seems like every step, at every age, counts.