Longevity and fitness – is there a correlation?
Every person dreams to live as long as possible while being aware of the fact that death is a certainty. The life expectancy of an individual cannot be accurately predicted though we understand that we can prolong life if the body and mind stay healthy and without any disease.
Many scientific studies have clearly shown that there is a correlation between longevity and fitness - regular exercise and body weight control can actually prolong life. A fit body can sustain more and offers higher resistance to infections and various diseases. Even when these activities are started late in life during sixth to seventh decade, the mortality has been found to be reduced by three times in the fit people than in those who are not.
Advantages of physical fitness
There are many reasons for prolonged life expectancy associated with physical fitness. They are as follows:
Heart disease - there is a reduction in the incidence of cardiovascular disease. It has been found that people who keep fit are less likely to suffer from hypertension and obesity. The fats in blood (lipid profile) also remain within normal range, thereby reducing the occurrence of atherosclerosis, which is associated with ischemic heart disease and peripheral arterial disease (gangrene). When the body weight is less, heart is required to pump less to deliver the blood to periphery. So, effectively the number of heart attacks, brain strokes, and kidney disease and the associated morbidity and mortality is reduced dramatically. Body fitness and weight control greatly reduce cardiovascular disease as a physically trained person is more disciplined and usually follows a regular routine in all fields of life.
Body reserve - a physically fit person has more body reserves available to fight against the disease. The cardiac (heart) or pulmonary (lungs) reserve is required to sustain the higher metabolic needs of the body in the event of any medical illness. For example, if an elderly person with poor lung reserve develops lung infection (pneumonia), he will deteriorate more rapidly than a fitter person with better lung reserve who will be able to maintain the oxygen saturation of the blood. This is important in preserving life and hence longevity. Similarly, the ability to increase cardiac output in the occurrence of disease (or fever, when the heart rate increases) is about 40-50% higher in the physically fit.
Obesity - exercise reduces the chances of being overweight and obese. During an exercise the metabolic rate increases and burns the fats. For example, during a marathon the metabolic rate may increase to 2000 percent above normal or resting metabolic rate. This consequently prevents the occurrence of diseases associated with obesity like type II diabetes mellitus and hypertension. Scientific studies have shown that a moderate exercise can increase the action of insulin and so can reduce the dose required to treat diabetes. This results in better control of blood sugar and delays the target organ damage (damage to eyes, kidneys and other organs).
Cancers - maintenance of physical fitness has been found to reduce the incidence of many cancers like breast, prostate and large intestine (colon) cancer. It is mostly mediated through a reduction of obesity. Many chronic diseases are also reduced probably due to enhancement of immunity.
Regular exercise to keep physically fit, thereby keeping the body weight within ideal weight limits is the key to a long life. A healthy balanced diet, abstinence from smoking and reduction of alcohol consumption add to it. To live longer, one has to follow a disciplined path, which may be difficult initially but the fruits of good health are far too many. By achieving a high level of fitness, you can also set a good example for others to follow. A longer life also increases the probability of success of your efforts in this world.