There is a great deal of evidence that physical activity increases average life. However, new research published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health found that body size and weight, as well as physical activity level, may affect women differently than men when it comes to lifespan.
Researchers Lloyd Brandts and Piet A van den Brandt analyzed data from the 1986 Netherlands Cohort Study, in which 7,807 adults aged 68-70 years provided information about themselves and were subsequently monitored until they either turned 90 or passed away. In the 1986 survey, they provided detailed information about their height, weight and physical activity regimen when they were 20 years old, thus extending the period of time analyzed.
“The findings indicate that both body size and physical activity are related to lifespan, but that these associations seem to differ between men and women,” Brandts told U.S. News.
Per the study’s findings, in men, height and Body Mass Index (BMI) were not linked to an increase in life expectancy, although physical activity was. Men who were physically active for more than 90 minutes a day were 39 percent more likely to reach age 90 than those who exercised for less than 30 minutes a day.
Women were 21 percent more likely to live to 90 if they exercised between 30-60 minutes a day compared to those averaging 30 minutes or less. However, the difference in findings between men and women involves body size. Unlike men, taller, leaner women were found to have a better chance of living longer. Women over 5’9 who had weighed less at the beginning of the study and put on less weight over the course of the evaluation period were more likely to live to 90 than shorter, heavier women. More specifically, the study found that women who were around 5’9 were 31 percent more likely to live to 90 than women who measured at around 5’3.
Because of the observational nature of the study, any reasoning for the findings is speculative, and, in his interview with U.S. News, Brandts expressed that this study cannot prove that body size and physical activity cause women to live longer.
This new study adds to the body of research that demonstrates the positive connection between a woman’s physical activity and her health. Per the Women’s Sports Foundation research, Her Life Depends On It III, that analyzed more than 1,500 studies on women’s health and athletics, physical activity is linked to lower cancer, obesity and dementia rates. The ever-growing list of benefits of physical activity will continue to be uncovered as more studies are released.