Is exercise a complete waste of time?

Treadmill2The headline on a story in Tuesday’s Washington Post: “A Daily Workout Could Add 4 Years to Life, Study Says.” Summarized in the article, the research (analyzing longitudinal data from the famous Framingham Heart Study) concluded that “moderate activity” tacked 1.3 to 1.5 years onto a person’s lifespan. And “more intense exercise” added 3.5 to 3.7 years. On his Kausfiles blog in Slate, Mickey Kaus quite reasonably remarks, “Only 3.7 years? It almost doesn’t seem worth it.” Indeed, once you do a little arithmetic, it doesn’t seem worth it at all. Let’s say a man age 20 begins exercising for an hour a day and keeps doing so until he hits age 70. Not even counting leap years, this adds up to 18,250 hours over the course of the 50 years—i.e., slightly more than two years spent exercising. Subtract this from the 3.7 years he gains, and he’s left with a net increase of less than two years of usable lifespan. Factor in travel time to and from the gym (to say nothing of time spent buying sneakers and other workout apparel), and it’s probably a wash. Moreover, he’ll have burned up a lot of youthful time in order to add more years in his 80s, which seems like a poor tradeoff. All of which helps to underscore why the phrase “on a treadmill” has long been a metaphor for utter futility.

—Posted by Mark Dolliver