New studies suggest regular exercise may help you live longer and healthier.

New studies suggest regular exercise may help you live longer and healthier.

You've heard it before: regular exercise-nothing more strenuous than a brisk half-hour walk most days of the week-offers potent protection against heart disease. But if that bit of information hasn't motivated you to move more, perhaps the promise of living to be a robust 100 will. New research shows that exercise:

1. Buys you time. Data from the Framingham Heart Study, a 40-year study of 5,209 people, suggest that people walking 30 minutes a day for five days a week (or an equivalent amount of other exercise) add about a year and a half to their lives. Those who push themselves a little harder-running instead of walking, for example-add three and a half years on average.

2. Keeps you sharp. A slew of studies suggest that regular physical activity can help maintain memory and other aspects of brainpower. A 2007 study out of Texas Tech University showed that exercise boosts a key neurochemical that allows brain cells to communicate. At Oregon Health & Science University, researchers studying a group of people in their late eighties found that those who remained active were two to five times more likely to avoid memory loss and other cognitive deficits.

3. Preserves agility. Findings from the Rush Memory and Aging Project at Chicago's Rush University Medical Center recently showed that exercise puts the brakes on the decline in motor function associated with age. That may be one reason, along with maintaining strength, that physical activity helps prevent falls, one of the leading causes of health problems for older people.

November/December 2007