In the previous article we already looked at the many positive effects of training on health parameters and your life expectancy. By exercising regularly and intensively you get a good cardiovascular fitness, which can be expressed in your VO2 max. Research has shown that a high VO2 max significantly reduces the risk of premature death from cardiovascular diseases and also from other diseases, even including cancer. We therefore introduced the concept of fitness age and a calculator to calculate it. A high VO2 max leads to a low fitness age: examples are authors Hans and Ron, who are 66 and 62 years old respectively, but have a fitness age of respectively 20 and 40 years.
To illustrate the effect on your life expectancy, we introduced the concept of cardiovascular life expectancy, which is equal to the standard life expectancy (80 years for men and 84 years for women) plus the difference between your age and your fitness age. For Hans and Ron, this leads to a cardiovascular life expectancy of 126 years and 102 years, great results they would like to sign up for….
Today we present an additional analysis of life expectancy, broader than just based on your fitness and your VO2 max. After all, your life expectancy is also influenced by other factors, such as smoking, diet, blood pressure, cholesterol, DNA, lifestyle and also psychological factors (feelings of happiness, stress).
These factors may be expressed in the concept of biological age. As with fitness age,you can then determine your broad life expectancy, which is equal to the standard life expectancy plus the difference between your age and your biological age. We end this article with 10 rules for a healthy lifestyle. If you live by these rules, the chances for longevity are maximized!
Causes of death and risk factors
The statistics of causes of death in the Netherlands are reported by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, see the table below.
As the table shows, cancer and cardiovascular disease are by far the leading causes of death. Many studies have shown that various risk factors (such as smoking, obesity, high blood pressure,high cholesterol) are strongly associated with premature death from these diseases. The WHO has published a comprehensive report summarising the knowledge on risk factors:”Global Health Risks: mortality and burden of disease attributable to selected major risks”. This report mentions the top 10 risk factors for western countries:
Smoking is, of course, the most well-known risk factor and not wrongly: smoking alone is responsible for 71% of lung cancer cases. Because lung cancer in itself is responsible for 15% of the total mortality in the Netherlands, the contribution of smoking alone to mortality in the Netherlands is at least 10%. In addition, smoking is also an important risk factor in the development of cardiovascular disease and COPD.
The first 7 risk factors (smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, too little exercise, too high blood glucose, too high cholesterol and a diet with too few fruits and vegetables) are responsible for 66% of heart disease deaths. Because cardiovascular disease accounts for 24.6% of total mortality, these 7 risk factors are responsible for 16% of total mortality.
Of course, various risk factors are also related to each other. That is also why the Norwegian University of Science and Technology found that a high VO2 max greatly reduced the risk of death from heart disease (and also premature death from all causes). After all, a high VO2 max will often be associated with no smoking, lower blood pressure, no excess weight, lots of exercise, low blood glucose, low cholesterol and a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables. In short, runners score favorably on many risk factors and will therefore have a higher life expectancy!
Biological age and broad life expectancy
The design of these calculators fits in with the above described risk factors with one additional aspect, namely your attitude to life. The literature also shows that a positive attitude to life (are you happy, are you an optimist, do you have little stress) also leads to less illness and a longer life expectancy (order of 10% longer life expectancy, so 8 bonus years, according to PubMed.
In the calculators you have to answer a large number of questions for various categories:
- Personal (life span parents and grandparents, number of hours of sleep and educational level)
- Cardiovascular diseases (cholesterol, blood pressure, smoking, family appearance, waist size, stress, exercise/training)
- Medical (specific diseases, use of medications)
- Nutrition (fruits and vegetables, number of meals, fat, salt and alcohol)
- Psychology (are you happy, relationship, friends, work, no stress)
- Accidents (driving, other risks)
The answers to the questions are converted into bonus years, i.e. you will be granted a number of extra years of life if the risks are low. All bonus years are added up to a total health bonus. Your biological age is then your real age minus the number of bonus years and your life expectancy is the standard life expectancy (usually 80 years for the Netherlands) plus the number of bonus years.
The results for Hans are shown in the table below.
The table shows that Hans gets a negative bonus for the personal questions (that will be because his parents died of a heart attack at a relatively young age), but strong positive bonuses for cardiovascular disease (by training all risk factors are beneficial), nutrition (Hans eats very healthy), psychology (Hans is a bon vivant and optimist) and also medical (no history of illness) and accidents (little driving and no other risks).
The results for Ron are in the table below.
We see that Ron also has very favorable scores, albeit slightly less than Hans. His cardiovascular fitness is a little less than Hans’s and his scores for nutrition and psychology are also slightly less.
According to the calculators the life expectancy for Hans is in the order of 111-116 years and for Ron in the order of 96-102 years. The differences seem explainable and are recognizable (influence fitness, nutrition and psychology).
The approach to biological age and broad life expectancy seems plausible: many known risk factors and also positive factors such as diet and a positive attitude to life are taken into account. Although the results for Hans and Ron seem very positive, they do fit into the picture that regularly gets in the news that people reach 120 years. This seems to be some kind of limit to life. If we die earlier, it’s because of specific causes, as described above.
The risks of premature death can be significantly reduced by a healthy lifestyle. Runners score favorably on various risk factors, such as not smoking, lower blood pressure, no obesity, lots of exercise, low blood glucose, low cholesterol and a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables. Runners may therefore expect a longer life expectancy. The health benefits can be expressed in bonus years (28-32 years for Hans and 14-19 years for Ron).
Of course, there are no guarantees to a long life. Hans and Ron could also have an accident or serious illness tomorrow. But the conclusion of this analysis is that we can significantly increase the chances of longevity through a healthy lifestyle. Based on our current insights, we have drawn up the following 10 rules/recommendations. If you live by these rules, the chances for longevity are maximized!
In next (and 3rd) article, we will discuss the return on investment of training: is it possible to calculate how many hours your life expectancy increases per hour of training? As spoiler alert, we can mention that the result will surprise you positively!
Our book ‘The Secret of Running’ is for sale in our webshop. Also available in German as ‘Das Geheimnis des Laufens’, and in Italian as ‘Manuale completo della corsa’.