When it comes to living a long and healthy life, there are more than just a few factors at play. Diet and exercise may be the first to come to mind, but your supplement routine, genetic makeup, and even sleep can all play into how long your life will be. But which of these plays the most significant role in longevity? Well, a new study may have the answer.

Genetics Vs. Physical Activity: Which Is More Important?

It’s long been debated whether nature or nurture is more significant in who people eventually become, and the same question can be applied to genetics vs. physical activity in the scope of longevity.

However, a new study published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity has revealed that even in people who were genetically predisposed to a longer life, there was a higher risk of health concerns the more sedentary they were (eg. sitting too much). Conversely, even if it isn’t necessarily in your genetic code to live a long life, this can potentially be adjusted with regular physical activity (i.e. your genes aren’t your destiny).

The Study Method

The Objective Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Health (OPACH), an ancillary study by the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), aimed to investigate physical activity and sedentary time (measured by an accelerometer) on health outcomes such as cardiovascular outcomes in postmenopausal women 63 years and older.

Previous studies examining this large cohort of participants of older women found strong and beneficial associations of accelerometer-measured light physical activity, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, and sedentary time with longevity during a follow-up period of around three years.

However, these previous associations did not take into account genetic contributions to these findings. In other words, how do genes mediate the impact of physical activity on health benefits and a long life?

The goal of this latest prospective study was to leverage a longer follow-up period in the OPACH cohort and investigate potential associations between genetic makeup and longevity.

Beginning in 2012, researchers gathered genetic data and measured the physical activity of 5,446 women 63 years and older in the United States. Continuing up until 2020 tracking their health metrics, the participants wore an accelerometer to measure the time they spent moving, how intense their activity was, and how much time they spent resting or sedentary.

What they found was that even in participants who regularly engaged in moderate or even light physical activity, their longevity was improved.

On average, they lived longer.

On the other hand, those who were more sedentary lived shorter lives, on average. These associations persisted regardless of an impressive genetic predisposition for longevity, or not.

The good news is that even if you aren’t a huge fan of intense physical activity, walking for just 21 minutes a day may be enough to support your overall well-being and a long and healthy life.

Really, any little bit helps, regardless of intensity!