Exercise is a Bet Against Yourself

Your time today is worth more than your time tomorrow

What if somebody asked if you would give up 25 weeks now for a chance at 3.4 years of life later? Well not exactly, but ask most people what they want out of exercising and you’re bound to hear a multitude of responses, and they probably all echo to a similar end goal — living a longer life.

Exercise is widely known to reduce the risk of health problems and premature death rates. From all aspects of a light workout to running a marathon, maintaining health and wellbeing comes with the rewarding goal of longevity. There are certainly proponents of exercise beyond the scope of staying healthy, but for a moment let’s focus on a different view on exercise, not to undo it for all its benefits but to observe another perspective.

The positive benefits of exercise are easily undisputed and a 2012 research published in PLoS Medicine has shown that exercising 150 minutes a week can increase your life span by 3.4 years. There was no mention of a time range, so one can presume it is an ongoing effort. Its difficult to measure something as intricate as life, but let’s try to make some rough sense of the data anyway. Given that the research participants were at least age 40 and the average life expectancy in the US is 72 years, that leaves us with 1,664 individual 150-minute exercise weeks if we’re being optimistic. Divide that into 3.4 years and we get that 0.48 years of exercise (25 weeks) is needed to yield an extra 3.4 years of life.

f(0.48) = 3.4 years. Sort of? Maybe?

My math may or may not check out, yet either way, I wouldn’t really know what to make of that number…but here’s the perspective I’d like to share.

Exercise is effectively a function where what you get out of it depends on how much you put in. Unfortunately, there’s no magical formula and putting in the 150 minutes of exercise a week doesn’t necessarily translate verbatim to 3.4 years of longer life. Everyone’s mileage will vary and you can get hit by a truck tomorrow and be out of the running despite all your best efforts. And the longer we live, the more we expose ourselves to such risks.

So is putting in X time units of exercise today worth Y time units of life for senior citizen you? After all, your time today is worth more than your time tomorrow. You have more energy and stamina today than you’d have at a senior age, and most importantly, how you use your time now will vary greatly from how you’d spend it then.

Take for example that you may take the time in your youth to further educate yourself. Whether that is reading an investment or business book, or anything else you are passionate about, because what you learn today snowballs into knowledge you’ll have tomorrow. Or perhaps even building a relationship that leads to happiness, but certainly not the allure of your senior years spent in hospice care? So in the end, is it really worth it?

Surely the benefits of exercise remain optimistic and I make no arguments to the contrary. But maybe the next time you miss a gym day, absolve the guilt and consider it an investment in yourself. Make the best of the time you have today and do something you won’t find yourself capable of doing when you’re gray and wrinkly. And whatever that is, you know best.