And we’re not just blowing smoke up your arse.
It’s common knowledge that smoking is bad for you — but what might not be common knowledge is that avoiding exercise might be as bad for you as lighting up. Obviously, people who are fitter and exercise regularly tend to live longer than those who don’t — though we recently learned that when it comes to running, light joggers tend to outlive their faster peers. Generally speaking, any bit of physical exercise is typically viewed as a positive.
Gretchen Reynolds, a physical education columnist for The New York Times, posted a piece on the adverse effects physical stagnancy. According to Reynolds, physical inactivity is second to cigarettes in terms of increasing the risk of premature death. Previous studies that examined the effect of physical inactivity on the body only spanned over 10–20 years. While that may sound like a long time, it’s not enough to extract any causal evidence about lifespans because the majority of the participants lived longer than 10–20 years. Additionally, many of the subjects in these older experiments were older to begin with, which could potentially confound the results of the study.
To provide a better look into the case, Reynolds reintroduced a study originally conducted in 1963. The results from the 45-year follow-up to the study were recently published in the European Journal for Preventive Cardiology. “In 1963, almost 1,000 healthy 50-year-old men in Gothenburg who had been born in 1913 agreed to be studied for the rest of their lives, in order to help scientists better understand lifetime risks for disease, especially heart disease,” Reynolds writes. It’s important to note that during baseline testing, the subjects were also asked whether or not they smoked cigarettes.
The results of the study showed that cigarettes had the greatest effect on users lifespan, however, no aerobic activity was a close second. Among the participants, those who had the lowest VO2 max — which is their maximum aerobic capacity — had a 21% higher chance of dying than those subjects who had moderate VO2 max levels. This number swells up to a 42% higher chance of premature death.
That said, what I found the most shocking was Reynold’s observation that “poor fitness turned out to be unhealthier than high blood pressure or poor cholesterol profiles.” The results of the study showed that men with high blood pressure and/or poor cholesterol — who are also highly fit — tend to outlive “healthier” men who skip out on going to the gym. However, it is important to remember that this study was conducted over 50 years ago, and only made use of Swedish males as test subjects. So, it still raises some questions whether or not the results from this study are universally applicable.
In conclusion, if you’ve spent your entire life avoiding the social cigarette and avoiding the gym you’re only spiting yourself. In order to fully decrease the chance of premature death, you can’t do one or the other. Exercise doesn’t necessarily mean you have to run the triathlon bi-annually to be fit. It just means you have to get out there and be active; do something that will raise your heart rate — even a simple jog around your neighborhood.
I’ll see you out there.