Light Exercise Increases Lifespan
We are all well aware by now that we should exercise every day. Yet despite this knowledge, about 78 percent of adults in the United States do not work out enough to meet recommended aerobic and strength-training guidelines. The most common excuse for this lack of activity? People say they just don’t have enough time. If this sounds familiar to you, we’ve got some good news. According to new research, if you can even find small amounts of time to do a little exercise, you will gain considerable benefits.
The study, which took place at University College London in the United Kingdom, found that short segments of light intensity activity are effective for increasing longevity in older men.1 (Hold on. As you’ll learn by the end of this blog, the results likely apply to both sexes and all age groups.) These results were based on an investigation that involved 1,181 men with no pre-existing cardiovascular disease. They ranged in age from 71 to 92, with an average age of 78. Each of the subjects wore a device for seven days that tracked all of their movements.
After approximately five years of following the participants, the researchers analyzed the data and discovered that it was the amount of exercise performed overall that was associated with living longer. In other words, long exercise sessions and greater intensity did not matter as much as the total volume of physical activity.
Brief periods of exercise that were typically less than 10 minutes added up and were shown to offer a similar addition to longevity as did sessions of exercise longer than 10 minutes. And these quick bursts of exercise throughout the day do add up significantly if they’re done regularly, as 66 percent of the volunteers achieved the recommended total of 150 minutes a week of physical activity when the short workouts were counted.
Each 30 minutes of light intensity exercise per day, which includes activities such as taking a walk or doing some gardening, was associated with a 17 percent decrease in the risk of early mortality. Those who were comfortable doing a more moderate or vigorous workout enjoyed even greater benefits. For every 30 minutes of more intense exercise performed, the subjects’ risk of early death dropped by 33 percent.
The study is somewhat limited by its focus only on older men and the fact that the follow up was only for five years, which doesn’t give us a lot of long-term information. Yet despite that, its findings are valuable and confirm earlier research such as a 2016 study at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada that showed health benefits can be derived even from three 20-second bursts of exercise.
Ultimately, the current study is a good reminder for all of us that we need to get our exercise in every day, even if it’s only piecemeal and isn’t always the most exerting activity. Keeping that in mind can make it much easier to reach daily exercise goals of 30 or 45 minutes. If you don’t have time to make your class at the gym, or do a circuit in the weight room, or take a three-mile run, you can still have effective workouts that will add up to the same amount of time in shorter bursts.
If you are stuck at work late, spend seven or eight minutes walking up and down the stairs or take a walk around the building. When you have a busy day of errands ahead of you, do some sit-ups, push-ups, and squats before you need to go. And those days when you only have 20 minutes in between work, dinner, and an evening meeting, spend 10 of them doing stretches or yoga poses to get a little exercise in and also calm your frazzled nerves.
And don’t forget, lots of our everyday activities burn calories and can count toward your daily workout goals too. For example, gardening burns about 300 calories per hour, walking briskly through the mall (without stopping for a Cinnabon or ice cream) for 40 minutes can burn 180 calories, and instead of a dinner date with friends, suggest going dancing, which will help you burn 360 calories in an hour.
- 1. Jefferis, Barbara J.; et al. "Objectively measured physical activity, sedentary behaviour and all-cause mortality in older men: does volume of activity matter more than pattern of accumulation?" British Journal of Sports Medicine. 12 February 2018. Accessed 28 February 2018. http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2018/01/19/bjsports-2017-098733.