What Is the Most Important Factor in Maintaining Mental and Physical Abilities Throughout Life?

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Although it's difficult to pinpoint one factor that has the greatest effect on health and longevity, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, physical activity is one of the most important factors in maintaining health. People who are physically active tend to live longer and have a lower risk of many chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, depression and some cancers.

Physical activity is beneficial to people of all ages and fitness levels, stresses the CDC. For example, only 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of high-intensity activity helps many adults maintain a healthy weight. Further, a combination of aerobic exercise, muscle-strengthening exercise and bone-strengthening exercise is scientifically proven to slow the loss of bone density that comes with advancing age. Exercise helps alleviate the pain of arthritis for many people and also decreases the risk of hip fracture in older adults. Additionally, people who are moderately active for at least 7 hours per week are 40 percent less likely to die early than those who are active for 30 minutes per week or less.

Physical activity also offers mental health benefits. The Mental Health Foundation points out that exercise causes the brain to release chemicals known as endorphins that are responsible for improving mood. Even a brisk, 10-minute walk improves alertness, energy and feelings of well-being. Furthermore, a combination of 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities three to five times per week helps maintain thinking, judgement and learning skills as people age, according to the CDC.