Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Benefit of Exercise?

I had my aviation medical exam today. The exam requires a physician certified by the FAA to identify medical issues related to flying and altitude, so I have to go to someone other than my primary care doctor. It’s a strange office and I’m glad I only have to go once every 2 years. Let me share an observation that is a small illustration of why I feel that way.

While waiting in the reception area, I was reading a homemade flyer prepared by the office. The flyer, posted on the wall, touted the benefits of exercise for prolonging life. After looking at it for a minute, I thought it was a poor motivational tool to promote exercise. In short, the meat of the poster was a table showing how various amounts of exercise per day (30 minutes, 45 minutes, 60 minutes, etc.) increased your life span. In general, across all amounts of exercise, your lifespan increased by about 66% of the time you invested in exercise. The chart also translated that to an increase in lifespan resulting from a year or 10 years of regular exercise.

I was surprised that information was posted and positioned that way in a doctor’s office. At first glance, I took it as a demotivational tool for exercise. The data showed that the time invested in exercise isn’t giving a great lifespan return. Exercising 30 minutes per day for a year means you use about 7.6 days for exercise that could be used for reading, sleeping, watching roller derby, playing sodoku, or whatever. Doing that amount of exercise for a year only prolongs your life about 5.3 days. So from a time standpoint, I’ve wasted 2.3 days. That’s a few months over the rest of my life. Imagine all the things you could accomplish with a few extra months! And if you cut out the 30 minutes of exercise altogether, that’s about 8 months of ‘extra’ time I’d have over the rest of my life. Wow!

I thought it was odd to look at exercise benefits from a time standpoint alone. I’m really surprised there was no mention about the quality of life benefits of exercise. Although you lose a bit of time, regular exercise should make you feel better over the time you have left and improve the quality of that time by decreasing the risks for diabetes, heart disease, etc. In my mind, that’s the payoff for the time investment in exercise.

I’m just glad I passed my medical exam. Now I'm going to the gym to workout.

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