We all know that it’s good to get moving, but why? Will walking and other forms of exercise do more than help us stay trim? Here’s a study from Japan, in the British Medical Journal, that shows an association between time spent walking, life expectancy and lifetime expenditure for medical care. Researchers from Japanese medical schools followed 28,000 men and women aged 40-79, and divided them into those who walked an hour or more a day, and those who walked less than an hour. The more active group had a significantly longer life expectancy and lower lifetime medical expenditure. They concluded that increased longevity resulting from a healthier lifestyle does not necessarily translate into an increased amount of medical costs throughout life.
Health care costs are important in Japan, as here, because the country has a universal health care insurance system. People without insurance can join a national insurance program administered by local governments. People can select doctors or facilities of their choice, and cannot be denied coverage. Sounds familiar? This system is similar to the Affordable Care Act being implemented in the US.
A similar study from The University of Texas was recently published the journal Circulation. The authors studied 63,000 men and women over 0-10 years, 10 to 20 years, and beyond 20 years. Their fitness was based on age and sex -adjusted treadmill times, as found at the Cooper Center. High fitness was associated with lesser mortality from all causes and from cardiovascular causes.
A recent article in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reviewed the effects of physical activity on people with cancer. Edward Giovannucci of the Harvard School of Public Health, made the following comments in his review of the article. Survival after cancer, although it may be dependent on the destructive behavior of the tumor, is also related to the general health of the patient. Health is often enhanced by activity. In addition, physical activity can have a direct effect on the cancer by altering various hormones, including insulin, insulinlike growth factor 1, estrogen and adiponectin (a protein involved in regulating blood sugar and fatty acid breakdown). These factors can promote or inhibit cell growth; insulin is a possible growth promoter for cancer, and exercise results in lower insulin levels. Observational studies of breast cancer (17 studies) and colon cancer (6 studies) suggest that physically active people have better cancer-specific and all-cause survival. Despite problems in comparing types of breast and colon cancer, and the presence or absence of metastases, the studies look promising. Few other leads have shown as much promise in extending the lives of cancer survivors, and activity can also improve the quality life of survivors. Giovannucci concludes that physical activity should be a standard part of cancer care.
More good news about coffee: In a new study from the National Institutes of Health, coffee drinkers who did not smoke were less likely to die in the next 14 years from a wide variety of illnesses. Total mortality was less in coffee drinkers, but deaths from cancer did not show this trend. Men showed an increasing benefit from coffee for up to 5 cups a day, and women who drank 2 cups a day showed a mortality benefit. Decaf coffee was also helpful.
If coffee helps you get out for a walk, a jog, a game of tennis or a swim, go for all of it! Now that it’s foggy and cool in West Marin, it’s great time to get started and keep it up.
Sadja Greenwood, MD back issues at