Fitness for Longevity: The Relationship Between Exercise and Lifespan

I’d like to begin this article by setting science aside for a moment and instead using a bit of plain old common sense. And if I also may, I’d like to offer some of my theories which relate to the title of this article, and for that matter, the objective for this newsletter.

Let’s discuss the relationship of exercise on longevity in a logical manner. I’ve always sensed that the healthier one is, the longer that person should live. Comparatively speaking, if one is weak and out-of-shape, and is prone to pain, illness, and disease, I don’t figure that person would live a long life, and if they did, they’d live a long miserable life.

Now how’s that for practical common sense. No science in my theory, just a gut feeling on what makes man live each day to his fullest and his life to its longest length possible.

Unfortunately, I personally cannot prove my theory. Life extension is difficult, if not impossible, to provide fact. However, if you do agree with me, or at least, sense some truth behind my theory, the remainder of this article should enlighten your today, tomorrow and lifespan. And although I’m interjecting my common logic in this piece, you can rest assure that plenty of scientific research can back most of it up.

Exercise: Friend or Foe?

It is now known that conditioning yourself through fitness activities can help to make you healthier. And fitness means proper exercise, food, supplementation, relaxation, and a positive cheerful attitude. When you have developed a routine that comprises all of these elements; and have learned to integrate and balance them into your personal, social, family, and occupational life, you will become resistant to many of the stresses and ailments so many others fall victim to.

Several studies have proven that exercise will increase lifespan. Exercise contributes to the quality of ones life by improving both physiologic and psychological functions. This improvement in ones life can eliminate the need for special care reducing the consumption of toxic drugs and therapies which offer temporary results with an association of negative consequences.

In other studies conducted in laboratory animals, it was found that sedentary rats lived shorter lives than their active counterparts. It can then be safely stated that lifespan and energy expenditure do have a correlation, however the expended energy must be at intensities which stimulate growth and repair of the body, instead of placing too much trauma to the tissues, organs, and nervous system.

I believe many athletes might actually be shortening their lifespans with the intensity they train under. The loads they subject themselves to during training often times over burdens their bodies. Intense training is a necessity in today’s world of competitive sports, as training sessions are designed to improve on ones own personal ability to surpasses his/her competition. And with the frequency of training sessions, recuperation time between workout sessions is not adequate enough to repair the damage from previous workouts and over training become the state.

Ego is also known to interfere with health. Classically, the so-called “A” type personality is the aggressive, never relaxed, always competitive, individual. It is this classification of personalities that is highly prone to heart disease. Comparatively speaking, the “B” type person is more laid back, paces him/herself in life and during workouts, and doesn’t care if he/she wins the race–they’re happy just to be there.

The “A” type individual can learn a lot from the “B” type, especially when we’re referring to longevity. In the short-run, some “A” types might have the advantage. But in the long run, the “B” type is more likely to live longer. It’s almost like the turtle and the hare.

So, I’m the first to admit that hard-core consistent training is damaging. The athlete who is constantly training beyond his or her metabolic capabilities is subject to a variety of ailments including tissue damage, hormonal imbalances, immune system dysfunction, and depression. Combined with the vast array of performance enhancing drugs like anabolic steroids and amphetamines, athletes are destroying their health while, at the same time, reaching for a Gold medal.

The athletes who live long productive lives after retiring from their sport are those who have paced their training in direct parallel with their metabolic capabilities, and who have either avoided drug use entirely or had wisely used (and not abused) synthetic ergogenic substances.

I believe that the average human, who, driven with an intense passion (maybe obsession) and discipline, transforms himself into a champion athlete may be the one who has peaked his/her energies during their athletic career when they are at a youthful age. In consulting athletes who are entering their post-career life, I prescribe a continuous routine of exercise that’s comprised of light to moderate intensities, and exercise activities with lots of variety. In this stage of an athletes life (post-sport), careful management to the needs of the body will restore and maintain health while (possibly) increasing lifespan.

Back to Science

In the November 1995 issue of Life Extension; Fitness for Longevity, Vol. 1, No. 3, I began explaining some of the benefits exercise provides to those who regularly engage in fitness activities. With a little redundancy; which is an important tool when learning exercise, I want to recap some of what I previously mentioned and introduce you to more of the remarkable psycho-physiological changes you can expect by involving yourself in a sensible fitness regimen.

A New Attitude

Depression, and other psychological disorders, are often the cause of low levels of self-confidence which often times stem from poor health, weakness, chronic illness, obesity, fatigue, pessimism, boredom, and loneliness. Exercise can help all of these conditions. In fact, I have witnessed plenty of cases in which exercise has transformed an introvert into a extrovert (in the good sense), and a complete manic depressive into a confidant competitive athlete.

I have often wondered what is the true fountain-of-youth elixir, and I am convinced now more than ever that it is a positive mental attitude. Those who live to a ripe old age are those who have lived life enjoying each day and are always looking forward to their tomorrow’s. Since being happy and enjoying life is only possible with good health, common sense, and another theory of mine, suggests that exercise should become a part of life with a formula of Exercise = Health = A Positive Attitude & A Zest for Life = A Long Productive Life.

Exercise Can Calm You Down

Many health professionals are now convinced that exercise conditions the heart and performs wonders for hypertension by lower resting heart rate and blood pressure. In actuality, the heart is a muscle which responds to exercise just like any other muscle in the body. In fact, many forms of exercise are designed to condition the heart. Exercise strengthens the heart by placing demands on the cardiovascular system during intense activity. As the body is starving for oxygen, the heart beats harder and faster during workouts to deliver oxygen-filled blood to the tissues. The more persistent one is in exercising consistently, the stronger their heart muscle develops.

Conditioned hearts, even at rest, provide a higher volume of blood and oxygen throughout the body as each heart beat is more forceful. The weak and out-of-conditioned heart has to beat faster and more repetitively to supply the same amount of blood and oxygen to the body which stands to reason why poorly conditioned hearts wear out quicker.

Strength and Support

In my last article, I mentioned that the body has two basic muscle fiber types, 1) Fast Twitch muscle fibers (FT) and, 2) Slow Twitch muscle fibers (ST). The FT fibers are those fibers which are responsible for strong and quick actions like carrying a bag of groceries, tossing out the garbage, swinging a golf club, picking up your child, etc. The ST fibers are used for walking, playing chess, and other slow, non stressing, activities.

As we age, and/or become out of condition due to exercise/activity reduction or abstinence, FT fibers start to atrophy preventing us from engaging in chores we once had the strength for just a few short years previous.

In my opinion, if we maintain a respectable degree of muscle strength with exercise, to prevent the inevitable decline of FT tissue with aging, I believe we can live each day like a person years younger and prevent a myriad of physical ailments that are normally associated with weak and frail muscles.


Other studies indicate that exercise strengthens bones and slows the progress of osteoporosis, a bone-thinning ailment, commonly associated with older women. Weight-bearing exercise, especially that obtained from lifting weights and using resistance machines, places a healthy stress to the bones and encourages new bone growth.

Additionally, with a well-conditioned muscular system, the posture of the body is kept in proper alignment. Since muscles hold the skeletal system in place, weak and out of shape muscles poorly aligned the body. Anatomical malalignment can create various degenerative joint conditions as bones, and their connections, compress together. When joints become crowded, their natural gaps and lubrication are reduced, and a grinding during movement wears them down even further.

Sexuality: The Pleasure of Life

You cannot deny that sex feels great. And if you engage in great sex with the one you love on a regular basis you’ll be living an ecstatic life. Another inevitable condition associated with normal aging is the decline of sexual functioning. This decline is often related to the degradation of the endocrine system which reduces the hormones that stimulate sexual fantasy, arousal, and the performance of the sex act itself.

It is clearly known that sensible exercise stimulates the body to produce higher levels of hormones keeping the biological age in parallel, or even at a younger stage, than ones chronological age. And as the bumper sticker states, “Runners do it longer”; obviously referring to their loving abilities, so can you if you engage in the right exercise activities. And to recite another life extension theory of mine, the more enjoyment you get out of life, the longer your life should be.

But don’t go out and start to run marathons and think you’re going to win a trophy in bed-time performance. Too much exercise can actually deplete the body of sex hormones making performance difficult, if not, at times, impossible. In fact, couples having conception difficulties are encouraged that the males reduce or stop intense exercise until their wives have become pregnant.

Other Factors Relating to My Theory of Exercise = Longer Life

  • Exercise encourages a healthy lifestyle. It is well recognized that those who begin a fitness program concomitantly reduce or even stop smoking, avoid junk foods, control consumption of alcohol, and begin thinking optimistically about themselves.

  • Exercise controls the progression, and can even reverse, obesity. People who exercise burn additional calories preventing the deposition of fat inside the body while reducing their percentages of stored body fat.

  • Since exercise helps to control body weight, it is statistically proven that those who maintain normal body weights are less likely to develop diabetes.

  • Contrary to popular belief, exercise does not have to be vigorous or difficult. As long as an extra demand is placed upon the body, above that which is normally experienced, the body will become conditioned and adapt to the new (good) stress and become stronger and healthier. With this strategy of progressive resistance, year-round progress is assured as the body is paced within its own metabolic capabilities and recovers nicely. Training for a marathon might not be your answer for health and longevity, especially if a 2 mile walk or run is you’re (personal) best prescription for health.

  • Begin exercise after seeking professional assistance, even hire a personal trainer. Learning the correct ways to exercise cannot be over-emphasized. I encourage that you write down your goals, strengths and weaknesses, and present them to some one who can provide the answers. Start at your own pace and progress when you feel capable. If, on certain days, you perform below your expectations, don’t get alarmed. The body has its own biorhythm and will fluctuate in energy and strength workout after workout. Just get out there and enjoy yourself, you don’t have to measure up to any body else or to your previous best days.

  • Exercise sessions do not have to last several hours to be productive. If you exercise correctly, sessions well under one hour will be sufficient for all your needs. However, if you like taking long walks or bike rides, or feel like playing tennis one afternoon, go ahead and enjoy yourself. To prepare and better endure your workouts, bring along some water, or maybe a good carbohydrate drink, as this will keep you hydrated and prevent any mineral imbalances.

  • You’re never too old. Start now! I don’t care how old you are. Exercise isn’t only for the young and energetic, it’s for everyone!

  • Treat yourself. Everyone thinks in order to get into shape you have to make all new friends, live on an organic farm, and own your own gym–not true. To give up your regular life would be a major deprivation. Sure there are those things you will have to eliminate, or curb a bit, but as long as you exercise and eat sensibly, you will obtain benefits that will contribute to your health and longevity.

  • To age successfully really relates to how well you have lived your life. I witness so many life extension enthusiasts who become overwhelmed with finding that “new” drug or miracle hormone that will banish all the neglect of their previous years. I do believe that there are some great products that contribute to health and well-being, but I feel a foundation must be laid, and maintained, of sensible exercise and good eating habits if you truly plan to live life to its fullest.

Many times, I have often heard that great athletes, and those who lived long lives, are those who had chosen the right parents. Granted, genetics do play a role in the course of our lives, but to the contrary, I believe we can manipulate the course of our lives by altering our genetics and can control our destinies. The ingredients for genetic self-intervention are proper exercise and nutrition. These practices construct and remodel the tissues of the body making it possible for us to literally create ourselves. If we eat poorly, and never develop any strength or stamina from exercise, common logic would suggest that we’ll, most likely, be unhappy, weak, stricken with maladies, and pass away years before our true time is up. On the other hand, as previously stated; my golden theory, if we eat great foods, develop adequate strength to easily endure our days, train sensibly, and avoid drugs, we’ll live a productive and extended life.

It’s fitness for longevity. A science made simple once you tie the laces of your gym shoes, grab that tennis racquet, or push up on that barbell. Whatever activities you select, pursue them with confidence that health and longevity are the rewards you’ll obtain for your efforts. Take my advise and let’s spend a little more time together!

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Written by John Abdo

Explore Wellness in 2021