Can a daily walk increase your years on the planet? Yes, according to a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (2005, vol. 165, no. 20). The groundbreaking study, conducted at the Erasmus M.C. University Medical Center in Rotterdam, calculated how different physical activity levels affect life expectancy and the onset of cardiovascular disease in people 50 and older. Regular exercisers added nearly four years to their life span compared with more sedentary participants.

Researchers examined health and lifestyle information from the Framingham Heart Study, an ongoing project monitoring more than 5,000 residents in Framingham, Massachusetts, since 1948. The data showed that moderate physical activity (such as walking 30 minutes daily, five times per week) increased life expectancy by 1.3 to 1.5 years; high physical activity (such as running 30 minutes per day, five times per week) added 3.5 to 3.7 years. Researchers say these longer life spans are largely due to the fact that regular exercise delays the development of cardiovascular disease by 1.1 to 3.3 years. The most encouraging news, says lead author Oscar H. Franco, MD, DSc, PhD, is that even inactive middle-age individuals can add years to their lives by starting a regular exercise regimen.