Around here, we are keen on stacking the longevity deck in your favor. And fortunately, many dedicated scientists worldwide share our zeal for healthy aging. From what to eat, to how to exercise, to understanding the role genetics play in longevity, the research is coming out fast and furious world-wide.
Now, a recent study published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity reveals new findings that are giving fresh hope to anyone who fears they’re losing the longevity lottery.1
You’ve no doubt read in this newsletter some of the scientific evidence showing that low physical activity and greater time sitting are linked with a higher risk of death—there are mountains of studies to date.
But, what about when a person is already genetically predisposed to live a long life? What impact does lifestyle have then? A team of researchers at the University of California, San Diego decided to find out.
Longevity: Nature or Nurture?
We’ve long debated what is more significant in growing a human being to adulthood: nature or nurture.
Were your kids born with a brain for math, or did you foster that love along the way, and therefore they excelled in that area?
Well, this same line of questioning can be applied to longevity regarding physical activity vs. genetics. The new study revealed that even those predisposed to a longer life had a higher risk of health issues the more sedentary they were. Basically, your good genes don’t mean a thing and your health can suffer dramatically if you sit too much.
And now, here’s great news for the rest of us who may not have a gold mine of longevity genes to dig into…
Even if you’re not genetically destined to live a long life, the research suggests that you can improve your chances of living longer with regular physical activity. Simply put, your genes are not necessarily your destiny!
“Our study showed that, even if you aren’t likely to live long based on your genes, you can still extend your lifespan by engaging in positive lifestyle behaviors such as regular exercise and sitting less,” explains senior author Aladdin H. Shadyab, Ph.D.
“Conversely, even if your genes predispose you to a long life, remaining physically active is still important to achieve longevity.”
So, How Much Exercise is Enough?
To answer this question, let’s dig into the specifics of this new study…
As part of the massive Women’s Health Initiative Objective Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Health Study (OPACH) performed in 2012, researchers set out to investigate the amount of active time and sedentary time on health outcomes in 5,446 women aged 63 and older.
Interestingly, previous studies that examined this cohort found a positive association between improved longevity and light physical activity or moderate-to-vigorous activity after three years.2
But here’s the thing: The previous research team wasn’t considering genetic contributions to these findings. The new study, however, sought to answer how genes mediate the impact different levels of physical activity have on health and ultimately longevity.
Not surprisingly, the latest deep dive into this research data found that higher levels of light physical activity and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity were associated with a lower risk of death. Higher sedentary time was associated with a higher risk of mortality.
But here’s the kicker: These associations persisted regardless of whether the individual had a remarkable genetic predisposition for longevity or not.
In other words, if you have good genes, regular light to moderate exercise can help you live longer and if you have not so good genes, regular light to moderate exercise can help you live longer, too. On the flipside, not exercising can be the final nail in your coffin whether you’ve got good genes or not!
At the risk of sounding like a broken record (remember records?), a well-rounded lifestyle, including a balanced diet, regular activity, stress management, and social connections, goes a long way in supporting longevity—no matter what kind of genes you inherited from your parents.
And the great news is that even if you didn’t win the genetic lottery, you still have many ways to increase your odds for a long, happy life. This recent study emphasizes that, in the ever-expanding world of longevity research, nothing is set in stone – even when it comes to genetics.