Recently on one of the lists I was introduced to another study which suggests that one of the most important things we can do to have a longer life is to exercise–at least a little bit. The study report begins by pointing out that in the past there has been an assumption that exercise helps people live longer indirectly because it helps them lose weight or change their body size. However the paper goes on to state that recent evidence suggests that physical activity (including recreational activity and activity accumulated during work hours) seems to help people live longer regardless of whether or not there is a change in BMI or body size:
Whereas it could be hypothesized that PA exerts its influence on mortality indirectly through reducing adiposity, recent data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) suggest that PA is unrelated to change in body weight and inversely, albeit weakly, associated with change in WC (12). Thus, PA may interact differentially with BMI and WCin relation to all-cause mortality.
So the study went on to test this question. Is it the change in body size or the activity itself that affects longevity? And the answer seemed to be pretty clear that physical activity helps people live longer whether or not their was weight loss or a change in body size. And furthermore, the test indicates that the biggest differences in longevity seem to be between the completely sedentary and the moderately inactive groups. In other words, they hypothesized that the place where there is the greatest impact in longevity is moving people from the group that doesn’t do any exercise at all to the group that does a little bit of exercise. More exercise helps a bit more. But moving out of the completely sedentary group seems to have the most impact.
The greatest reductions in mortality risk were observed between the 2 lowest activity groups across levels of general and abdominal adiposity, which suggests that efforts to encourage even small increases in activity in inactive individuals may be beneficial topublic health.Am J Clin Nutr doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.100065.
So what does this mean to us? First of all, let me plainly state that nobody is under any obligation to prioritize their health or engage in any activity if they don’t want to. Your body is your own and you get to decide how you want to live. But if you are somebody who is interested in living longer, perhaps one of the best things you can do (outside of being rich and born to parents with great genes) is to do at least a little bit of exercise.
So what does this mean to public health? To me it suggests that if we really want people to live longer, we need to focus on helping them get more active. Outside of the fact that most weight loss attempts fail, and about 1/3 of the time lead to people getting larger, outside of the fact that many of the more radical weight loss schemes (like surgery) can lead to life-altering side effects, is the simple fact that getting people to exercise even a little bit seems to have a more dramatic effect. And getting people to exercise–provided they can do it in a safe environment–seems to be a lot less risky.
For so many reasons, I think it’s time to move outside of the weight loss rhetoric about the war on obesity and just move into an environment focused on making it physically, emotionally and financially safe, comfortable and accessible for all folks to integrate physical activity into their lives. That is, if we are ready to stop worrying about making money upon broken dreams and start helping people actually have better lives.
Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)
P.S. I’m setting my spring speaking schedule. Want to book me to speak to your group or school? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I can work to fit most programs and budgets. You can read more HERE.