In another study, this one published in January 2009 in the journal Pediatrics, more than a thousand students (average age: 13) were evaluated to assess overall physical fitness, physical activity, and risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
At ages 15, 25 and 33, these same variables were assessed again and compared with original (baseline) measurements. Physical fitness at age 13 was associated with reduced body mass index (BMI) and blood pressure (systolic and diastolic) both at baseline and at all three later ages - although it's important to point out that the strength of these associations decreased over time (and disappeared altogether by age 40), emphasizing that movement early in life needs to be sustained in order to continue providing benefits. Nonetheless, considering that high BMI is associated with a host of poor health outcomes, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and high blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, the point is clear: Keep the body moving and it's more likely that good things will happen (and on the other hand, bad things won't).
Want more? How about a study suggesting sustained improvements in leisure-time physical activity in 50-year-old men reduces all-cause mortality (death) comparable to the risk reduction achieved by quitting smoking! As with the Pediatrics study referenced previously, consistent physical activity was key; risk of death did not improve significantly until the men had stuck with their exercise program for 10 years, but after that, the benefits only got better with time. What's more, risk of death was inversely related to level of activity, meaning men who participated in low levels of physical activity were at higher risk than men who participated in medium levels of activity, while those who exercised the most (high) were most likely to be alive and going strong well into their golden years. And of course, all three groups fared better than their inactive counterparts.
The best news of all is that it really doesn't take much to get moving and stay moving. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans suggests adults participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week, preferably in episodes of at least 10 minutes at a time and spread throughout the week. Now think about it: that's only an average of 30 minutes a day, five days a week, and what's more, it doesn't relegate you to a treadmill or exercise bike for the same old routine day after day. Basically, anything that gets your heart pumping and keeps it pumping for a sustained period counts (Read "Find Your Fat-Burning, Muscle-Building Zone" in the July issue for specific information on aerobic exercise and heart rate). You can take a brisk walk, jog, ride your bike, do housework, garden, play with the kids, or do any number of activities to get the health-promoting benefits associated with the simple act of movement.
Peter W. Crownfield is the executive editor of To Your Health. Direct all comments and questions to