A number of respected, high-profile studies conducted over time suggest a strong link between exercise and longevity. It is becoming clear that a number of 'symptoms' that have been commonly associated with 'aging' are in fact symptoms of a sustained and chronic lack of movement and exercise.
For example, conventional wisdom has held that weight gain, loss of strength, loose skin, chronic pain, weak bones, bladder (and other organ) problems, circulatory system problems, memory failures, joint failures, and arthritis are a 'normal' experience as humans grow older. As it turns out, this is not the case. Each of the previous health issues can now be directly linked to atrophy of muscles, bones, and joints (the musculo-skeletal system).
The process of physical deterioriation during aging can be identified as beginning as early as a person's 30's. It is not accidental that this age is when most people begin to have families, homes, careers, and other demands that make exercise seem optional. You may have heard that "it's just not as easy to lose weight after 30" or other sayings reflecting the onset of physical decay at this age.
In an attempt to provide actionable advice, we can inspect the single greatest cause of the symptoms of aging: atrophy. Atrophy is a process of slow deterioration of the musculo-skeletal system due to a lack of use. The human body, like all living things, grows and responds positively to stress. Muscles grow through having been exercised past their point of endurance. Joints become stronger from jarring and shocking. Without stress, the body weakens.
Longevity studies show that exercise alone is insufficient to prevent many degenerative problems. The other requirement is flexibility. As we age, we find efficient patterns of movement, and tend to stick with what works well. This leads to chronic , self-imposed limitations of our range of motion. As a result, small, supporting muscles atrophy, forcing other systems to take over their normal function. The results are chronic pain, organ deterioration, and many of the same symptoms of aging described above.
Therefore, in order to preserve youthful levels of energy, health, and well-being, it is critically important that you make it a habit of continuing improvement in at least these two areas: strength and flexibility.
Free weights and workout machines are easily found and when used regularly are sufficient for most major muscle, joint and skeletal stimulation. Just be sure that you vary the routine frequently enough to avoid chronic movement patterns.
Flexibility is required to keep the small, supportive muscles and tissues performing optimally. Yoga or Pilates classes are, as of this writing, quite popular and widespread.
Finally, how much is enough? The most current research suggests daily exercise for a period of at least one hour. If this sounds like a lot, consider what the human body was designed to do: perform active physical exercise all day long. Most contemporary IT professionals are behind a monitor employing a very limited range of motion (hands and forearms?) for upwards of ten hours per day.
Even if daily exercise is not possible, any regular strength and flexibility exercise will provide enormous long-term benefits to your life. The cost of inactivity is just too high.