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How Long Should You Exercise To Lengthen Your Life?

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People who positively enjoy exercise are very lucky; many do it grudgingly. If you’re in the latter category the latest research should thrill you. It shows exercise needn’t take up more than two minutes of your day.

It’s true! Even this tiny amount of time will cut your risk of death significantly. There’s only one caveat…

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services publishes Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans to promote good health. The current guidelines recommend 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous physical activity, or a combination of both per week.

Many people will get out of breath just from reading that. But there’s good news.

New guidelines were added recently that emphasize the value of short bursts – less than five minutes - of intermittent physical activity.

This should be music to the ears of those who regard exercise as a chore. They know they must do some to remain in good health, but only want to do the smallest amount necessary.

Death Risk Halved in Minutes

In a new study published in the European Heart Journal (EHJ) researchers at the University of Sydney, Australia, tried to find out how much vigorous activity is enough to prevent premature death.

For their study they gathered data from the UK Biobank resource. They included 71,893 British men and women aged 40 to 69 who were heart healthy and cancer free when the study began.

Each wore an accelerometer on their wrist 24-hours a day for seven consecutive days to measure physical activity.

After a seven year follow up, and taking multiple factors into account that could influence the result, the key finding was that 15 minutes a week of vigorous activity led to lower death from any cause by 16 to 18 percent.

Increasing activity by just another five minutes to 20 minutes a week reduced mortality from cardiovascular disease by 40 percent.

Even Small Amounts Were Relevant

For example, participants with no vigorous activity had a four percent risk of dying within five years. Risk was halved to two percent with less than ten minutes of weekly vigorous activity. This fell to one percent with 60 minutes or more.

The take home message, the researchers wrote, is that “Premature mortality and major chronic diseases may be lowered through relatively modest amounts of vigorous physical activity.”

First author Dr. Matthew N. Ahmadi explained, saying, “The results indicate that accumulating vigorous activity in short bouts across the week can help us live longer. Given that lack of time is the most commonly reported barrier to regular physical activity, accruing small amounts sporadically during the day may be a particularly attractive option for busy people.”

A second study published in the same issue of the EHJ looked at vigorous activity and its effect on cardiovascular disease.

A Brisk Walk Keeps the Heart Heathy

The research group from England included 88,412 UK Biobank participants with an average age of 62 who were free of cardiovascular disease when the study began.

After seven years, higher amounts and greater intensity of exercise lowered the rate of heart disease. Increasing the intensity led to greater reductions in heart disease for the same volume of exercise.

For example, the rate of cardiovascular disease was 14 percent lower when moderate-to-vigorous activity accounted for 20 percent rather than ten percent of activity, the equivalent of converting a 14-minute stroll into a brisk seven-minute walk.

First author Paddy Dempsey said: “Our study shows that it’s not just the amount of activity, but also the intensity that is important for cardiovascular health.

“Our results suggest that increasing the total volume of physical activity is not the only way to reduce the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease. Raising the intensity was also particularly important, while increasing both was optimal.

“This indicates that boosting the intensity of activities you already do is good for heart health. For example, picking up the pace on your daily walk to the bus stop or completing household chores more quickly.”

My Takeaway

The research underscores the importance of exercise to your health. And this study is further proof that physical activity of any kind is a step in the right direction towards increasing your longevity.

If you can be mindful to increase your pace and intensity when you’re walking, biking, or doing just about anything, you’ll give yourself the best shot at a healthier, stronger heart and living a longer life.
  1. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/969038
  2. https://academic.oup.com/eurheartj/article/43/46/4801/6771381
  3. https://academic.oup.com/eurheartj/article/43/46/4789/6770665

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