Getting to the finish line first is usually a good thing — but not when it comes to your life span! If you want to stretch out your years as long as possible, you may want to hit the pool this summer.

Amazing new research shows swimmers beat both runners and walkers in lowest rates of mortality. Researchers from the University of South Carolina followed 40,547 men of all ages for 32 years to see how their physical activity of choice (or lack thereof) lined up against their longevity odds. Not only were regular swimmers 53% less likely to die of any cause compared to couch potatoes — they were 50% less likely to die than walkers and 49% less likely to die than runners.

Why might this be? Previous research suggests swimming strengthens the heart and the lungs, leading to higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness. Swimmers may be also less likely to be sidelined by sports injury or joint pain. Another hypothesis: Swimmers might enjoy the health benefits of more vitamin D, thanks to higher sun-exposure.

Your best bet is to include as much variety in your exercise agenda as possible — mixing in swimming, biking, yoga, surfing, running, strength training, and walking. Research suggests diversity of activity — vs. straight intensity — may reduce the risk of developing dementia later in life. Not only will  exercise help you live longer, it will help you live younger, as actually measurable by DNA markers.

Published July 1, 2011