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The Return to Exercise

The Washington Post reports (rr) that exercise is good for you.

Sorry, couch potatoes — the verdict is in: People who exercise regularly really do live longer.

fact, people who get a good workout almost daily can add nearly four
years to their life spans, according to the first study to quantify the
impact of physical activity this way.

The researchers looked at records of more than 5,000
middle-aged and elderly Americans and found that those who had moderate
to high levels of activity lived 1.3 to 3.7 years longer than those who
got little exercise, largely because they put off developing heart
disease — the nation’s leading killer. Men and women benefited about

"This shows that physical activity really
does make a difference — not only for how long you live but for how
long you live a healthy life," said Oscar H. Franco of the Erasmus M.C.
University Medical Center in Rotterdam, who led the study, published
yesterday in the Archives of Internal Medicine. "Being more physically
active can give you more time."….

People who engaged in moderate activity — the equivalent of walking
for 30 minutes a day for five days a week — lived about 1.3 to 1.5
years longer than those who were less active. Those who took on more
intense exercise — the equivalent of running half an hour a day five
days every week — extended their lives by about 3.5 to 3.7 years, the
researchers found.

Is it true?  Let’s ignore that for the moment and look at another question—the return on the investment of working out.  Thirty minutes of walking a day, five days a week for 50 years is about one year’s worth of your waking life.  For that you gain a few extra months when you’re old.  So that suggests running is the way to go.  At least you triple your return.  Running a year (spread out over fifty years) gets you an extra two years.  Still not that exciting.  BUt maybe worth it.  I suspect exercise makes your later years more enjoyable.  Probably.  I’d still like to see how the study was done.  Were the data based on retrospective questions?  How many people in the sample ran at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

For me, the best case for exercise is that it feels good (sometimes during, sometimes when you stop) and taking care of your body is part of the human enterprise.

I’ve been intrigued lately by the writing of Arthur Devany who particularly disdains jogging and argues for a radically different kind of workout of 1-2 hours per week.  Check out the category in his blog, "Evolutionary Fitness" and then read what he has to say about baseball and steroids.  It’s worth reading just for the powerful cadence of his writing.  And he has something to say as well.