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A Simple Health Message Adds Years to Life

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A Simple Health Message Adds Years to Life about undefined
Cooking a meal is not only time consuming, but there are all those pots and pans waiting to be cleaned - one of my least favorite chores.

So much easier to buy ready-made meals and place the dishes and cutlery in the dishwasher—or even directly in the trash!

Convenient it may be, but there's a huge downside to these and other time and labor savers. Turns out, they will more than double your risk of dying before your time.

The problem isn’t the kind of food you’re eating. It’s the activities surrounding cooking and cleaning up. Before I get ahead of myself, I need to start at the very beginning, with exercise. We know exercise is good for us, and being slumped on the sofa for most of the day is a bad habit.

What we don't know is exactly how much physical activity—or even what kind— is optimal and how many hours of sitting is detrimental.

The current advice of 150 minutes of moderately intense activity a week is mainly based on studies that ask people how much exercise they perform weekly.

Trouble is, people tend to be inaccurate or downright dishonest when self-reporting how active they are and how much time they spend sitting. Even when a survey is anonymous, a lot of people don’t want to admit to the unpleasant truth about their habits.

To find some really concrete evidence, a large international team looked at studies where the participants wore a motion sensor (accelerometer) around their waist between four and seven days a week to track the volume and intensity of activity.

The researchers found eight high quality studies that included a total of 36,383 adults aged 40 or more (average age 62), who were followed for nearly six years. During this time there were 2,149 deaths in the group.

60 Percent Lower Risk of Mortality

After taking into account factors that could have an impact on the findings -- age, gender, smoking, body mass index, socioeconomic status -- the researchers found that any level of physical activity, from light to vigorous, was associated with a substantially lower risk of death.

Not to brag or anything, but I’ve been saying this for years.

Activities of light intensity, if carried out for long enough, such as walking slowly or tasks such as cooking or washing dishes still resulted in a steep decrease in mortality compared with doing nothing.

Maximum risk reduction was seen when a participant was active for six hours and 15 minutes a day (admittedly a tall order). The equivalent definition for moderate to vigorous activity was 24 minutes per day.

The biggest reduction in mortality was for the top quarter of active participants who experienced a 60 to 70 percent lower risk of dying compared with the least active quarter of participants.

Sit Less - Move More

These objective findings found the risk of death for sedentary behaviors was twice as large when compared with previously published studies that relied on self-reported data. (In future I think I’ll be very skeptical of self-reported data. You see it most often in studies of what people eat.)

Interestingly, researchers also discovered that when it comes to sitting there’s a tipping point where your risk of death is automatically increased—it occurs at the nine-and-a-half hour mark.

That is too much time to spend on your hind end.

The finding reminds me of the tragic stories in the news about video-gamers who literally drop dead after sitting for ten plus hours playing video games. While these are extreme cases, they prove a point about the dangers of sedentary living.

It’s also important to note that sitting fewer than nine-and-a-half hours straight wasn't strongly linked to a difference in mortality risk, so we can still enjoy a large amount of time sitting around without feeling as though we’re harming our bodies. After all, relaxation is important to good health as well.

The researchers concluded by writing, "Our findings provide clear scientific evidence that higher levels of total physical activity — regardless of intensity level — and lesser amounts of sedentary time are associated with lower risk for premature middle aged and older people."

The authors said there's a simple health message that comes out of this study: “Sit less and move more and more often.”

I have to agree. You don’t have to work yourself up into a sweaty lather for hours a day to reap the amazing health benefits of exercise. Just working in the yard, cleaning the house or grocery shopping all count towards healthy physical activity that helps you live a longer life.

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