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Leisure-Time Physical Activity Boosts Longevity, Study Finds

Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity may reduce risk of death from all causes.

 Ruslan Guzov/Shutterstock
Source: Ruslan Guzov/Shutterstock

Every day, it seems there is another scientific study reaffirming the unparalleled power of regular physical activity to improve well-being and increase longevity. Today is no exception.

Researchers in Finland have just completed a 12-year longitudinal study on the health benefits of leisure-time physical activity (LTPA). The findings were published online ahead of print in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The new Finnish study reports that for men and women ages 65 to 74, regular LTPA is associated with a decreased risk of death from all causes—including cardiovascular disease (CVD) and events such as strokes or heart attacks.

If you need one more reason to exercise more and sit less, hopefully, these findings will inspire you make leisure time physical activity a part of your daily routine.

The Benefits of Moderate-to-Vigorous Physical Activity Are Dose Dependent

Previous research has found that regular moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) lessens the risk of death from all causes and mortality from heart disease specifically for middle-aged people.

The new Finnish study on LTPA is the first to examine whether regular leisure-time physical activity reduces deaths from all causes for older adults and if staying active reduces risk of death from cardiovascular disease and stroke as people age.

To study the association between LTPA and longevity, the researchers in Finland analyzed lifestyle data taken from 2,465 men and women aged 65 to 74 who had participated in a national health study conducted between 1997 and 2007. Leisure-time physical activity was broken down into three levels: low, moderate, high.

The research team followed all 2,465 study participants through the end of 2013. Since then, they’ve consulted the Finnish National Causes of Death Registry to determine how many of the participants have died and what caused someone’s death. The researchers conclude,

“Leisure-time physical activity reduces the risk of total and cardiovascular disease mortality and incident CVD events in older adults independently of the major known CVD risk factors. The protective effect of LTPA is dose dependent.”

People in this study with higher levels of LTPA lived longer and had less disease. That said, the protective effect of any amount of physical activity boosted longevity in a continuum.

Why Does Leisure-Time Physical Activity Increase Longevity?

There are five different ways that physical activity improves heart health and increases longevity, according to the Finnish experts.

5 Reasons Exercise Increases Longevity

  1. Helps you maintain a healthy body weight
  2. Lowers blood pressure
  3. Reduces your risk of blood clots
  4. Stabilizes blood sugar levels
  5. Improves the ratio of unhealthy to healthy cholesterol in your body

“Sedentarism” is becoming a global epidemic marked by chronic physical inactivity and sitting for long periods of time. Sedentarism is referred to by public health experts as "sitting disease." Worldwide, it's estimated that physical inactivity causes approximately 3.2 million deaths a year.

If you are currently moderately active most days of the week, the Finnish researchers say this is enough to have a positive impact on your long-term physical well-being and heart health. Keep doing what you're doing.

But, if you are currently suffering from sedentarism, there is good news. Becoming slightly more active—even if that only means taking several short walks around your home or office each day—can significantly improve your health and lower your risk of heart disease, the researchers said.

It’s never too late to change your lifestyle habits and make physical activity a part of your daily routine and leisure time. Why not start today? (As always, make sure to consult with your primary care physician before beginning any new exercise routine.)


Noël C. Barengo, Riitta Antikainen, Katja Borodulin, Kennet Harald, Pekka Jousilahti. Leisure-Time Physical Activity Reduces Total and Cardiovascular Mortality and Cardiovascular Disease Incidence in Older Adults. J Am Geriatr Soc. DOI: 10.1111/jgs.14694