This may sound surprising, but this is exactly what was found in the classic experiment, the Dallas bed rest study 1.
Way back in 1966, five 20-year old students underwent a comprehensive evaluation of their cardiovascular system to assess how they adapt to 3 weeks of bed rest and 8 weeks of heavy endurance training, followed up FORTY years later.
After just three weeks in bed the students experienced deterioration in their cardiovascular fitness that was equivalent to 20 years of ageing. Thirty years later, only two had continued to exercise regularly and they had all gained body fat. Even so, the declines from 30 years of ageing were less than those they had suffered during the original three weeks of bed rest!
This study is a really clear demonstration of just how powerful and underestimated simple daily exercise is. Upon retesting at the 30 year point, the men were then put on an aerobic exercise program that involved regular walking, jogging and cycling; modes we ALL have unlimited access too. The declines they had suffered over the previous 30 years were completely reversed in 6 months.
The cardiovascular health benefits of exercise are clear in this resounding 40 year follow up, but the benefits don't stop there. Aerobic exercise has also been shown to help with sleep, motor function, memory, blood hormones like cortisol, strengthen immunity, decrease inflammation, reduce anxiety, depression, mood and chronic pain.
To gain these benefits does not require training for a marathon either. They simply require that we get our heart rate up and slightly out of breath for at least 30 mins a day. This could be a scheduled exercise session or simply background exercise. Really simple ways to increase your background exercise might be to commit to walking your dog each day, or walking to the shops instead of driving, you even get a loaded carry in here on the way home!
However you choose to do it, the benefits are clear, but importantly, we have to DO IT.
Inactivity is a secret killer, don't let it kill you.
Luke R. Davies
1.McGavock, J. M., Hastings, J. L., Snell, P. G., McGuire, D. K., Pacini, E. L. Levine B. D. and Mitchell, J. H. (2009). a forty-Year follow up of the Dallas Bed Rest and Training study: the effect of age on the cardiovascular response to exercise in men. The Journals of Gerontology. Series A, Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 64(2): 293-299. [cited in Louw & Puentedura (2013). Therapeutic Neuroscience Education: Teaching Patients About Pain, P.195]