Frequent exercise is often touted as the key to leading a long and healthy life.
But few studies have delved into comparisons in longevity between those who partake in vigorous physical activity and those who lead mostly sedentary lifestyles as a result of their occupation throughout their lives.
In a recent study published in Palgrave Communications, scientists found that vigorous physical activity may be linked to shorter lifespans.
They found kabuki actors, known for their vigorous movements, had shorter lifespans compared with other traditional arts performers who lead mostly sedentary lifestyles.
The research was from the Tokyo Institute of Technology. One author is Naoyuki Hayashi.
In the study, the team compared the lifespans of four groups of Japanese traditional arts performers by examining data from a total of 699 professional male artists, both living and dead, whose birth and death records are all publicly available.
They hypothesized that kabuki actors would lead longer lives owing to the high-level physical activity involved in their theatrical performances, compared with other actors who perform tea ceremonies, recount comic stories and play musical instruments while sitting.
But the team found that contrary to expectations, the lifespan of kabuki actors was shorter than that of the other three types of traditional artists.
One reason for the shorter lifespans of kabuki artists could be that excessive endurance training and physical activity overwhelm the beneficial aspects of regular physical exercise.
Another reason might be that in the past, kabuki actors have often worn oshiroi (white powder used for make-up) containing lead, which carries a significant health risk. The use of oshiroi was only banned in Japan in 1934.
The team says further work would be needed to evaluate the optimal amount of exercise for protecting health.
The possible beneficial effects of “non-exercise” activities such as speaking, singing, and playing musical instruments would also need further exploration.