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Exercise Mistakes That Can Shorten Your Lifespan, Science Says

Living life to the absolute max means avoiding these fitness no-nos.
FACT CHECKED BY Faye Brennan

Given the choice, would you choose to live forever? It's a question humans have been asking themselves for thousands of years, but immortality is probably better off as a fantasy. Eternal life would undoubtedly get pretty boring after the first 500 or 5,000 years. One survey of over 2,000 adults conducted by New Scientist reports that only one in five people would actually accept an offer to live indefinitely. Another 44% of survey respondents agreed that "people should accept their natural lifespan."

So, while immortality may be the perfect illustration of it being very possible to have "too much of a good thing," there's nothing wrong with striving for a full, healthy life. Who doesn't want their days to remain both productive and meaningful long after gray hairs have appeared? Luckily, there are a number of ways to promote a longer natural lifespan, maximize longevity, and prolong a productive, active day-to-day lifestyle.

At the core of any effective longevity strategy is exercise. Piles of scientific and medical research tell us that exercising consistently is an absolute pillar of healthy living well into old age. This recent American Heart Association research project concludes that simply walking more, in general, promotes a longer life. Another study released in JAMA came to similar conclusions. In short, moving more is linked to living longer. Further research released in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology tells us that the more one exercises the more likely they'll be to survive a cardiac event like a heart attack. The life-extending benefits of exercise are myriad and constantly expanding the more we understand about the human body.

Generally, the message is simple: Exercising will help you live longer. The devil is in the details, however, and it's important to keep in mind that there are various exercise mistakes and miscues that can end up sabotaging even the most well-intentioned of longevity efforts. Read on to learn more, and next don't miss The Worst Lifestyle Habits Causing You to Feel Older, Science Says.

1

Too much, too often

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Listening to your favorite song in the gym may make you feel like you can run for hours on end, but it's so important to approach your workouts realistically. A solid workout should be tough, but there is absolutely a limit. And, while there's no shortage of exercise routines out there to choose from, no trainer or influencer knows your body as well as you do. If a workout feels like too much, or a weight feels too heavy, it probably is.

Similarly, you don't need to get in an intense, strenuous workout seven days per week. In fact, recent research even suggests too much regular strenuous activity can actually shorten lifespan. Published in Palgrave Communications, the fascinating study focused on a collection of 699 Japanese artists born after 1901. Studied adults were divided into four groups depending on their artistic profession. While three of the groups consisted of artists including musicians and storytellers, the fourth cohort was made up of Kabuki performers. Kabuki is a centuries-old Japanese performance art requiring constant and quick movements by performers.

In other words, the Kabuki performers were engaging in a lot of intense physical activity on a daily basis. So, study authors hypothesized that the Kabuki performers would live longer, on average, than the others. To their surprise, however, the opposite was observed. The Kabuki actors actually had a much shorter average lifespan than other artists living much more sedentary lives. Among other considerations, the research team believes the constant and excessive nature of Kabuki-related exercise largely offsets the benefits of all that movement.

Another recent research project published in Cell Metabolism lends further credence to the idea that too much exercise can spoil a good thing. Study authors conclude that performing HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts too often can hinder mitochondrial functioning and increase insulin resistance.

"HIIT exercise should not be excessive if increased health is the desired outcome," study co-author Mikael Flockhart, a researcher and doctoral student at the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences, tells The New York Times.

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2

Worrying about exercise

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Exercise is usually one of life's great solutions, but sometimes we can't help but make it a big problem. If you recently began a new exercise routine and constantly beat yourself up psychologically if you miss a workout or specific fitness goal, remember to cut yourself some slack. It just may save your life!

This study published in Health Psychology finds that worrying too much about not exercising enough may shorten lifespan. Study authors analyzed over 61,000 Americans to reach this conclusion. "Individuals who thought they were less active than other people their age were more likely to die, regardless of health status, body mass index, and so on," lead study author and Stanford University psychologist Alia Crum tells NPR.

Researchers theorize that it may be just as helpful to believe we're getting enough exercise as it is to get up off the couch. Even if you exercise all the time, if you constantly think it's not enough you're adding unnecessary stress to your life.

"Many Americans think that the only healthy physical activity is vigorous exercise in a gym or on a track," Dr. Crum adds. "Our research suggests that perceiving everyday activities as good exercise is almost as important as doing the activities in the first place. In the pursuit of health and longevity, it is important not only to adopt healthy behaviors but also healthy thoughts."

Related: 4 Exercise Tricks to Fight Aging, Science Says

3

Sweating in smog

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The benefits of exercising outdoors are well-documented, but you should always avoid areas with high air pollution if at all possible. Often termed "smog," air pollution is usually caused by the burning of coal, car exhausts, and wildfires, just to name a few sources. Characterized by the presence of "particulate matter," or microscopic bits of dirt, soot, dust, and smoke tiny enough to be inhaled, air pollution exposure is linked to an ever-expanding list of health issues. Suffice to say, avoiding outside areas with any significant amount of air pollution is a very good idea while planning an outdoor workout.

Nearly unbelievably, this study released in Cardiovascular Research last year warns that smog may be the next global health crisis to threaten humanity. They estimate that smog is already shortening the lifespan of millions on a global scale by an average of nearly three years. More specifically, air pollution is linked to an astounding 43% of annual cardiovascular-related premature deaths.

Moreover, if you think this is a concern that doesn't affect you, think again. A recent report from the American Lung Association estimates over 135 million Americans live with polluted air.

As touched on earlier, prolonged smog exposure is linked to a long list of health concerns. This research published in JAHA links smog to cardiovascular issues in childhood and adulthood, while this troubling report in the BMJ suggests air pollution is even linked to blindness. Finally, air pollution is also heavily associated with an increased risk of dementia.

If you live in an area known to experience air pollution from time to time, keep track of air readings and adjust your workouts accordingly.

Related: 5 Quick Cardio Workouts That Burn Fat Fast

4

Focusing on strength over power

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The words "power" and "strength" may sound synonymous, but research tells us that prioritizing power over strength can pay longevity dividends. Strength, of course, refers to how much weight one can lift. Power, on the other hand, accounts for both force and speed. When a strenuous activity, such as climbing a set of stairs or performing a pull-up, can be completed in a faster manner, power is increasing.

This study, presented by the European Society of Cardiology, reports that focusing on muscle power is much more helpful when it comes to longevity.

"Rising from a chair in old age and kicking a ball depend more on muscle power than muscle strength, yet most weight-bearing exercise focuses on the latter," explains study author Claudio Gil Araújo, professor and director of research and education at the Exercise Medicine Clinic – CLINIMEX in Rio de Janeiro. "Our study shows for the first time that people with more muscle power tend to live longer."

"Power training is carried out by finding the best combination of speed and weight being lifted or moved. For strength training at the gym most people just think about the amount of weight being lifted and the number of repetitions without paying attention to the speed of execution," he adds. "But for optimal power training results, you should go beyond typical strength training and add speed to your weight lifts.:

Want to add some explosiveness to your workouts and start increasing muscle power? Study authors suggest choosing semi-heavy weights that are still a challenge but not a struggle. Then, perform 1-3 sets of 6-8 repetitions as fast as possible while maintaining good form. Be sure to rest for 20 seconds between each set.

For more, check out The Best Anti-Aging Diets, According to Science.

John Anderer
John Anderer is a writer who specializes in science, health, and lifestyle topics. Read more
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