The risk for various health problems increases with age. But there are steps people can take to help minimize these risks, and exercise seems to be one of those steps.
In a recent study, researchers examined the relationship between long-term exercise and many common illnesses such as weight gain, obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and dementia.
After reviewing multiple studies that documented patients' health over the years, the researchers found that patients who exercised regularly were less at risk for these illnesses in comparison to patients who did not exercise regularly.
The review suggests that regular exercise is an important factor for preventing age-related diseases. The researchers suggested that patients can reduce their risk for various illnesses by maintaining a regular exercise routine.
Miriam Reiner, PhD, of the Institute of Sport and Sport Science at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Karlsruhe, Germany, and colleagues aimed to summarize the relationship between long-term physical activity and age-related diseases.
The review examined 15 different studies that tracked patients' state of health for at least five years. The studies included a combined total of 288,724 participants who were 18 to 85 years of age. Each study had more than 500 participants.
The researchers divided their review into four parts. They reviewed studies that documented patients' physical activity and weight, physical activity and heart disease, physical activity and diabetes and physical activity and mental illness.
Four of the studies examined the relationship between physical activity and weight gain in 17,329 patients. Rather unsurprisingly, the first three studies showed that patients who were more physically active lost weight, and patients who were less physically active gained weight.
Rather counterintuitively, however, the fourth study showed that physical activity increased the risk of becoming obese. The reason for this outcome in the fourth study is still unknown.
Six of the studies looked at the effects of physical activity on heart disease in 134,188 patients. One of those studies, which examined 12,516 Harvard alumni over the course of 16 years, showed that burning at least 1,000 calories a week with exercise was necessary to reduce the risk for heart disease.
All six of these studies showed that as physical activity increased, the risk for heart disease decreased.
Of the research that examined physical activity and type 2 diabetes, five studies with a total of 84,647 participants were reviewed.
One of the studies reviewed, which examined 1,543 men and women, showed that each healthy lifestyle choice decreased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 35 percent in patients. Healthy lifestyle choices included physical activity, eating a healthy diet, avoiding tobacco and alcohol, and a lower BMI. In this study, patients who were the healthiest had an 82 percent lower risk for type 2 diabetes than other patients.
All five of these studies showed that regular physical activity reduced the risk for type 2 diabetes. However, there are important factors other than physical activity that contribute to the development of diabetes.
The studies examining the relationship between physical activity and Alzheimer’s or dementia consisted of six publications involving 15,006 participants. These studies showed that low intensity exercise, such as walking, were associated with a lower risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
This finding suggests that regular exercise may play an important role in preventing mental illness.
There were several problems with the studies reviewed, however. For example, the studies consisted mostly of white males, so the conclusions may not apply to women or other ethnic groups.
The studies also consisted of adults only. The researchers stated that more study is needed which documents children throughout their lives.
Furthermore, the research did not illustrate a causal link between physical activity and various illnesses.
Despite these limitations, these results provide a general understanding of physical activity and its relationship to health.
“Physical activity seems to be a relevant factor for preventing age-related diseases; however more long-term research is necessary,” Dr. Reiner and colleagues wrote.
This study was published online September 8 in BMC Public Health. The authors declared no financial contributions relevant to the study and no conflicts of interest.