I'm not talking about someone who sits in a chair all day and never moves. I mean the difference between the people who go jogging then go to the gym for an hour or two compared to the people who just take casual strolls once in awhile.

The reason why Im skeptical is because, honestly, every single "healthy" person I've ever known has died before 50. As an example, my father was a fire fighter, trained all the time, but he did drink. He exercised and also did construction. He died before 50.

Our neighbor did all kinds of outdoor stuff. He'd ride kayaks, go white water rafting, mountain biking etc, died before 50.

A co-worker of my dad's who worked in the office of the fire dept was always going to the gym and exercising and only ate healthy foods. She got lung cancer and died and she didnt even smoke and cancer wasn't in her family.

Even professional athletes die from things like this, or they end up like Lance Armstrong almost dying and fighting cancer constantly or .

I have more examples, but you get the idea. Are there studies that really, actually show that people who exercise and eat healthy frequently will live longer that aren't by lobbyists or people who would benefit off of dietary or exercise videos, books, etc?

I know this might sound stupid, but we're already living nearly 3x longer than we did in the past, is eating a salad instead of a cheese burger or pumping iron instead of walking to the store really going make you live longer when you take into account every other disease?

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    Ah, the awesome power of anecdotal evidence. Commented May 27, 2011 at 18:28
  • Moderate exercise and healthy food will extend your live (on average of course). To much or to heavy sport of course raises the chance of injury and might lead to an early death. In Germany we have the two humorously sayings: "Treib Sport oder bleibe gesund" ("Do sports or stay healthy") and "Sport ist Mord" ("Sport is murder (suicide)"). Commented May 27, 2011 at 18:36
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    Not to be offensive or tarnish any memories, but how did these people you know die? I can throw out just as much anecdotal evidence of people I know who took poor care of themselves and died early, and friends who're in their 70's and regularly run marathons. This isn't a concrete answer, but it boils down to: In the end, genetics and environment will just have their way. But you can influence your environment with exercise, you'll (probably) physically feel better being in better shape than you would otherwise, and it darn sure isn't going to hurt your chances.
    – erekalper
    Commented May 27, 2011 at 18:39
  • The thing is anecdotal evidence queues you to question things. People asking if God is real because they dont see evidence of him in numerous ways, people would have said thats anecdotal evidence and STILL do. There is a lot of people who can financially benefit from scaring people at how important it is and when not a single person I know has benefitted from it you bet id question it and I hope when 20 years of experience makes you question something you do even if it's not the popular belief. Commented May 28, 2011 at 18:09
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    Come on, people. You know the line: "No, it just seems longer" ::rimshot:: Commented May 30, 2011 at 4:31

3 Answers 3


Eating healthy and exercising is, of course, not guaranteed to make you live longer - you could get hit by a bus tomorrow, after all. Nor is there a causal relationship between the two, as you have cited examples where those who ate healthy and exercised lived a short life. But if you look at a sufficiently large population there is a positive correlation between healthy eating and exercise and life expectancy.

One such study that reveals this correlation is the Harvard Nurses' Health Study, which was started in 1976 and continues to follow more than 120,000 female nurses. Initially, the survey assessed risk factors for cancer and cardiovascular diseases, but was later updated to include assessing diet.

Some findings from the study include:

  • Higher intake of red meat increases risk of premenopausal breast cancer.
  • A Mediterranean-type diet reduces risk of incident CHD and stroke.
  • Fish intake reduces risk of stroke.
  • Nut and wholegrain consumption reduces risk of CHD.
  • Refined carbohydrates and trans fats increase risk.
  • Higher vegetable intake, especially green leafy vegetables, reduces risk of cognitive impairment.
  • Higher intake of fish may reduce risk of cataracts.
  • Physical activity, including walking, reduces risk of CHD and stroke.
  • More physical activity, including walking, reduces risk of hip fracture.
  • Moderate physical activity reduces risk of cognitive impairment.
  • Obesity increases risk of colon cancer.
  • Obesity increases risk of breast cancer among postmenopausal women

There have been more than 1,000 peer-reviewed articles written that were based on the results from this longitudinal study. An approachable overview of this study is available in the book, Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, penned by Walter Willett, M.D., who led the Harvard Nurses' Study for many years.

Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy

  • What about exercise? This is a great answer for eating healthy though. Another question is, what about being underweight? Thanks! Commented May 30, 2011 at 5:54
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    This answer uses an unusual (non-standard) definition of "causal".
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jan 20, 2012 at 8:50

A 1995 Harvard study found "a graded inverse relationship between total physical activity and mortality". There seemed to be an important relationship between 'vigorous' exercise and longevity, though they note that nonvigorous exercise has been shown to benefit other aspects of health as well.

On a broader note, the health benefits of exercise in an aging society should probably be emphasized at least in a policy context. The more people take care of themselves, the longer and better lives they'll live.

  • What does "graded" mean in that context? Commented May 30, 2011 at 3:56
  • This is exactly the type of thing i was looking for. all the people I mentioned did vigorous activity, including the said athletes... I think there is a point, just like with tools or hardware, upkeep is needed, but constant, non-stop use shortens life span. Commented May 30, 2011 at 5:50
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    I can't see how you draw the conclusion 'constant, non-stop use shortens life span' from this answer. Seems like it says the opposite.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jan 20, 2012 at 8:55

There are a huge number of studies that do indicate that exercise is good for you, in that it reduces your chance of getting various serous diseases, and hence causes you to live longer. The link is widely recognised.

Having said that, these things are always a statistical likelihood. If they have a genetic problem, or are just plain unlucky, some people will get a serious disease and peg out when they are forty, no matter how much they exercise. Some people who don't exercise get lucky and live to be a hundred. It's a statistical thing. Professional athletes are a bad example because they also push their bodies to, or sometimes past, the limits and will give themselves health problems because of it. (It's also true that extreme exercise isn't necessarily better for you than moderate exercise.)

With genetics there are sometimes many people in a family who die early despite exercise, or die late despite lack of it. If you're going to get cancer when you're fifty, exercise probably won't make much difference to your lifespan. But in general if you want to live as long as you can, your chances are much greater if you do your exercise.

Some studies that show up easily on the internet are here. There are hundreds more.

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    I totally understand about genetics and luck but it does make me question if its true. My concern is what type of exercise? Extreme exercise is what exactly? Is lifting the max weight you can everyday and running 6 miles extreme? What about half that? 1/4th that? Obviously sitting on a couch all day and never leaving is bad, but again, to what extent is it healthy? Commented May 30, 2011 at 5:57
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    If a few isolated examples make you question the truth of thousands of scientific studies, then you DON'T understand about genetics and luck. The point is that even with an absolutely undeniable connection there will always be some people who exercise well and die early, or slob around and die late. Commented May 30, 2011 at 14:35

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