Adding a few minutes of extra vigor to daily activities — such as briefly picking up your walking pace — can provide non-exercising people with some of the health benefits enjoyed by exercisers.
That’s according to a new study of roughly 25,000 adults who reported not exercising in their free time. Those who engaged in vigorous exercise of one to two minutes three times a day had a nearly 40 percent lower risk of dying from any cause compared with those who did not engage in such activity every day. The risk of dying from cancer also fell by nearly 40 percent, and the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease fell by nearly 50 percent, researchers reported online Dec. 8 natural medicine.
The reduction in risk of death was similar among about 62,000 people who exercised regularly, including runners, fitness enthusiasts and recreational cyclists.
“This study adds to other literature showing that even small amounts of activity are beneficial,” said Lisa Cadmus-Bertram, a physical activity epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who was not involved in the study. “A lot of people get frustrated because they don’t feel like they have the time, money, motivation, transportation, etc. to go to the gym on a regular basis or exercise for long periods of time,” she said. “The message we can take is that it’s absolutely worth it to do what you can.”
Epidemiologist Emmanuel Stamatakis of the University of Sydney and his colleagues analyzed records from part of the UK Biobank, a biomedical database containing health information on half a million people in the UK. The study’s non-exercising participants — more than half of whom were women and had an average age of 62 — wore the activity-tracking devices for a week.
At an average seven-year follow-up, the one-year mortality rate for those with three or four bursts of activity a day was 4.2 deaths from any cause per 1,000 people. For those without an active outbreak, there were 10.4 deaths per 1,000 people in one year.
The researchers were looking for bursts of vigorous activity that met definitions established by laboratory studies, including reaching at least 77 percent of your maximum heart rate and at least 64 percent of your maximum oxygen consumption. In real life, signs that someone has reached a desired level of intensity are “increased heart rate and difficulty breathing” within the first 15 to 30 seconds of activity, Stamatakis said.
Regular daily activities provide multiple opportunities for these energetic bursts, he said. “The easiest thing to do is to maximize your walking pace for a minute or two on any regular walk.” Other options include carrying shopping bags to the car or taking the stairs, he says. “Finding ways to get the least physically active people to move a little more can deliver the greatest population health gains.”