We have some shocking news you may want to sit down for. Actually, scratch that. Don't sit—walk while you read this.
Okay, we're kidding (kind of), but that's part of the message from a huge new study published in Preventative Cardiology: If you're not getting in enough physical activity, you're actually killing yourself.
In an effort to look at the impacts of different variables on health over the course of a lifetime, researchers set up the "Study of Men Born in 1913" that tracked thousands of Swedish men from age 50 until death. One of the variables they measured was the subject's VO2 max, a number that indicates how aerobically fit you are. (They used it as a measure of exercise since it's more objective and honest than simply asking people to remember their exercise habits.) They then compared the effect of VO2 max on life span with other health conditions like smoking, heart disease, weight, and diabetes.
No one was surprised when the data showed that having good cardiovascular fitness helped the men live longer. What was shocking, though, was just how much it helped. The men with the lowest VO2 max scores (so, the least fit) were 21 percent more likely to die prematurely than those of average fitness, and had a 42 percent higher risk of dying early than the men who were the most fit. In fact, the effect of exercise on life span was so great that it ranked above conditions like high blood pressure or cholesterol; the only thing that increased the risk of dying more than sitting was smoking.
But there's good news as well. "Even small amounts of physical activity may have positive effects on fitness," said lead researcher Per Ladenvall, a researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg. And he added that while the study only looked at Swedish men, they also believe that the findings apply to men and women in general.
Now, who wants to go for a walk?