I hate to sound pedantic, but I must take strong exception with the wording in a current report about the positive effects of minimal exercise on life expectancy.
Both the evening network news anchor and the print journalists used the same misleading wording to summarize a fairly rigorous 12-year study involving 400,000 Taiwanese citizens over a 12-year period. Here is the offending phrase (italics are mine): “Researchers found those who exercised just 15 minutes a day — or 90 minutes a week — cut their risk of death by 14 percent and extended their life expectancy by three years compared with those who did no exercise.”
Forgive me for delivering this somber note, but there is nothing, nada, zip, zero, that you can do to reduce your risk of death.
Your risk of death is 100 percent. Count on it. Unless the second coming of Christ occurs in our lifetime, we are going to die. You can reduce your risk of dying in the near term. You can reduce your risk of dying from a particular disease or ailment. But your risk of death is going to be 100 percent.
Call me a stickler for accurate language, but the writer who summarized this study could have done a better job. Suspecting that the original researchers reported something quite different I traced the study back to the source. Sure enough, the original wording of the study indicates that minimal exercise produces a 14 percent reduced risk of all-cause mortality. There is a huge difference between all-cause mortality and death, the former being a highly technical term describing the various causes by which a person might die and the latter being, well, death.
Those in the Judeo-Christian faith group should face death realistically. Those who approach life as if they’re never going to die are either naïve, deluded or a teenager. Ever since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit death has been the one constant. Eating your broccoli, refraining from alcohol, tobacco or drugs, saying your prayers and living a good life will not shelter you from death and sometimes they won’t even protect you from premature or untimely death. Though sometimes death comes as a friend, many times it comes inconveniently.
I’m delighted to learn that even minimal amounts of exercise might help me kick the can a little further down the road, a prospect much more encouraging than kicking the bucket. The report, first published in The Lancet, is cause for rejoicing.
So why, one might ask, have I chosen to focus on the morbid side of the report? To be realistic about death is not morbid. Every day is a gift and none of us know how many of those days we shall receive. If we approached life with a more honest recognition of our dying we would savor each day, love more boldly, give more generously, sing more often. Where, o death, is thy sting?
Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at firstname.lastname@example.org.