This post is in response to High School Athletics Fosters a Lifespan of Well-Being by Christopher Bergland
Zurijeta/Shutterstock
Source: Zurijeta/Shutterstock

Children and young adults who exercise regularly are more likely to seek physical activity and fitness throughout their lifespan. Recent human and animal studies have discovered that regular exercise in childhood and adolescence increases the odds of staying physically active and healthy during adulthood. 

A 2014 study of World War II veterans found that the single strongest predictor of well-being in later life was whether someone played a varsity sport in high school. Across the board, people who had played a high school sport reported visiting the doctor fewer times annually throughout their lifespan.

The researchers followed 712 World War II veterans who were healthy as young men and surveyed them 50 years later at an average age of 78. The study, “Fit in 50 Years,” was published in BMC Public Health.

Regular Exercise and Openness to Experience Are Intertwined

The researchers wanted to identify the personality traits that lead to staying healthy and fit throughout a lifespan. They looked at how different behaviors, backgrounds, and personality traits impacted the healthfulness of men when they were over 70 years of age. 

The primary aim of this study was to identify what type of background or personality characteristics could predict whether a healthy 25-year-old was likely to be a physically active and healthy 75-year-old.

Of all the traits in the Five Factor Model, the researchers found that "openness to experience" was most strongly linked to an inclination to participate in athletics and remain physically active by age 75. Maintaining an adventurous mindset was associated with remaining physically active in old age.

In order to develop effective public health policies and interventions that increase physical activity for people of all ages, it's important to understand the factors that lead to both increased physical activity and sedentary behavior throughout generations. The researchers are hopeful that their findings will inspire people of all ages to stay physically active.

Early-Life Exercise Increases the Propensity to Exercise Later in Life

Zurijeta/Shutterstock
Source: Zurijeta/Shutterstock

Recently, a team of researchers at the University of California, Riverside conducted experiments on mice to identify the effects of early-life exercise on the propensity to seek exercise as an adult. Theodore Garland, Jr, a professor of biology at UC Riverside, and his colleagues performed the mice study to identify the effects of early-age exercise on adult physical activity, body mass, food consumption, and circulating leptin levels.

The June 2015 study, " Effects of Early-Onset Voluntary Exercise on Adult Physical Activity and Associated Phenotypes in Mice," was published online in the journal Physiology & Behavior.

The main purpose of this study was to evaluate the effects of early-life exercise on adult physical activity. The researchers found that early-life access to regular exercise significantly increased adult voluntary exercise. The researchers also found that all the mice given access to early exercise maintained a lower weight than their counterparts who didn't exercise.

Garland suggests that these results could have implications for the importance of regular physical education in elementary and middle schools. In a press release, he said,

If kids exercise regularly through the school years, then they may be more likely to exercise as adults, which could have far-reaching positive effects on human health and well-being. Our results suggest that any positive effects of early-life exercise on adult exercise propensity will require reinforcement and maintenance if they are to be long-lasting.

These findings support the hypothesis that early-age exercise can potentially have positive effects on adult levels of voluntary exercise. In addition to reducing body mass, these laboratory findings may be relevant for the public policy debates concerning the importance of funding physical education for children.

Conclusion: Regular Activity and a Spirit of Adventure Can Keep You Healthy

The health benefits of regular physical activity are well established. Regular exercise improves quality of life, while optimizing the function of your brain, body, and mind. Exercise also decreases the risk of obesity and disease throughout your lifespan.

A June 2015 study confirmed than one in three adults in the United States are obese. Unfortunately, most children, adolescents, and adults don't exercise enough to meet the minimum recommendations specified by current public health guidelines. Regular physical activity combined with a diet that balances the calories you burn during exercise and daily living is the key to combating obesity.

Statistically, physical activity decreases progressively throghout a person's lifespan. Hopefully, these findings will inspire parents, policy makers, and people from all walks of life to stay active and open to new experiences throughout their lifespan. 

If you'd like to read more on this topic, check out my Psychology Today blog posts:

© Christopher Bergland 2015. All rights reserved.

The Athlete’s Way ® is a registered trademark of Christopher Bergland.

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