Does physical activity increase life expectancy? A review of the literature

J Aging Res. 2012;2012:243958. doi: 10.1155/2012/243958. Epub 2012 Jul 1.


Physical activity reduces many major mortality risk factors including arterial hypertension, diabetes mellitus type 2, dyslipidemia, coronary heart disease, stroke, and cancer. All-cause mortality is decreased by about 30% to 35% in physically active as compared to inactive subjects. The purpose of this paper was to synthesize the literature on life expectancy in relation to physical activity. A systematic PubMed search on life expectancy in physically active and inactive individuals was performed. In addition, articles comparing life expectancy of athletes compared to that of nonathletes were reviewed. Results of 13 studies describing eight different cohorts suggest that regular physical activity is associated with an increase of life expectancy by 0.4 to 6.9 years. Eleven studies included confounding risk factors for mortality and revealed an increase in life expectancy by 0.4 to 4.2 years with regular physical activity. Eleven case control studies on life expectancy in former athletes revealed consistently greater life expectancy in aerobic endurance athletes but inconsistent results for other athletes. None of these studies considered confounding risk factors for mortality. In conclusion, while regular physical activity increases life expectancy, it remains unclear if high-intensity sports activities further increase life expectancy.