Darwin was right too.

Darwin was right too.

Who would have thought that Charles Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest theory would be so applicable to us all in the 21st century. In his theory, Darwin proposed that the fitter and stronger of a species would survive. Although I have always believed this to be the case for humans, it was exciting to see some research that verified this.

A recent research paper in the British Medical Journal reported the findings of a longitudinal study that followed over 2205 men from when they were in their fifties through to their eighties. They examined the relationship between activity and mortality.

In summary, what they found was:

  1. There is a dose dependent association between level of physical activity and total mortality in middle aged men. That is, the more active the men were the less their risk of dying.
  1. The relative rate reduction attributable to high physical activity was 32% for low and 22% for medium physical activity. If you were in the high activity group you had a 32% less risk of dying compared to the low level activity men.
  1. Men who increased their physical activity level between the ages of 50 and 60 continued to have a higher mortality rate during the first five years of follow-up. After 10 years of follow-up their increased physical activity was associated with reduced mortality to the level of men with unchanged high physical activity. That is, their risk of dying was equivalent to those men who had been active all their life.
  1. The reduction in mortality associated with increased physical activity was similar to that associated with quitting smoking. Imagine if society had placed as much emphasis on getting people exercising and fitter as it has on getting them to stop smoking.

Like all research, you have to be careful assuming that this will apply to everyone, other than Swedish middle-aged men, but I believe if this study could be repeated with different population groups, the findings would be similar.

It is also worth noting that activity levels were determined based on a self-assessment. In my experience, most people over-estimate how active they are, so if you genuinely exercise regularly at a fairly high intensity, you may have an even lower risk than those in this study.

Strength training and high intensity interval training for older adults is relatively new advice, so it will be interesting to see how this compares in reducing mortality with aerobic exercise and just being generally active. I believe it will be found to be just as or even more beneficial, especially in older age groups.

What does all this mean?

  • The more active (fitter) you are, the less your risk of dying prematurely.
  • It’s never too late to start an exercise program to reduce your risk of dying early.
  • Getting fitter reduces your risk as much as quitting smoking. (Imagine if we could get an anti-unfitness lobby going!)
Avatar for David Beard
David Beard
  • Avatar for David
    Posted at 08:29h, 09 April

    Thanks for the feedback David. You are right about Darwin however hopefully it made the point and makes a difference. If you get to read my book I’d love to hear what you think.