Exercising for 15 minutes a day adds three years to a person’s life expectancy, according to the first study to show there’s a health benefit from even low levels of physical activity.
In a study involving more than 400,000 people, those who exercised for 90 minutes a week were also 14 percent less likely to have died after eight years than those who were inactive, researchers at Taiwan’s National Health Research Institutes wrote in The Lancet medical journal this week. Every extra 15 minutes of exercise reduced the risk by a further 4 percent.
The World Health Organization recommends adults aged 18 to 64 years exercise for at least 150 minutes a week. While one-third of American adults meet that goal, less than one-fifth of the population in East Asian nations such as China, Japan and Taiwan do, the authors wrote. The study shows that even a small amount of exercise can lower an individual’s risk of death and disease, and a nation’s health costs, they said.
“This advice is very simple and probably easily achievable,” Anil Nigam and Martin Juneau, researchers at the Montreal Heart Institute, wrote in an editorial accompanying the study. “Governments and health professionals both have major roles to play to spread this good news story and convince people of the importance of being at least minimally active.”
Researchers led by Chi Pang Wen at Taiwan’s Institute of Population Science studied 416,175 healthy volunteers aged 20 years or older who participated in a medical screening program in Taipei from 1996 to 2008, with an average follow-up of eight years. Participants were classed in one of five categories of exercise, from “inactive” to “very high” activity.
More than half of all participants were classed as “inactive,” and a further 22 percent as “low volume” active. Compared with the inactive group, those in the “low volume” category had a 14 percent reduction in their risk of death over the course of the study, Wen and colleagues wrote. At age 30, they also had life expectancy that was 2.6 years longer for men and 3.1 years longer for women.
Every extra 15 minutes of exercise reduced the risk by an additional 4 percent up to 100 minutes a day, after which there was no additional benefit. The reduction was as high as 40 percent for those who exercised most often and most vigorously.
“If the minimum amount of exercise we suggest is adhered to, mortality from heart disease, diabetes, and cancer could be reduced,” Wen and colleagues wrote. “This low volume of physical activity could play a central part in the global war against non-communicable diseases, reducing medical costs and health disaparities.”
The study was funded by Taiwan’s Department of Health, the Clinical Trial and Research Center of Excellence and the National Health Research Institutes.