Lots of research has shown that, at least over short periods of time, people who are physically active are more alert, remember things better, and are in better health. But does that mean that they live longer? A recent review article looked at this question.
The authors found 13 papers that looked at the difference in life between physically active and inactive people. The paper is a little short on details about how “physically active” was defined. The paper review, for example, might have looked at elite athletes, but it’s not clear whether they maintained physical activity throughout life. Even with this problem, people described as physically active lived on average several years longer than those who weren’t.
One interesting finding was that leisure-time physical activity may be more important than having a job that demands physical activity — those who reported more leisure time physical activity also had slightly longer lives. The authors only found one paper that looked at strength training (those people had slightly longer lives) and none looked at possible confounding variables. For example, maybe people who are in general healthier are more likely to be physically active and live longer as well.
Reimers CD, Knapp G, Reimers AK (2012). Does physical activity increase life expectancy? A review of the literature. Journal of Aging Research, article ID 243958. Open source. Available here.