More Than Zero: New Evidence That Any Amount of Physical Activity is Better Than None

Results from a large analysis released yesterday further confirm that getting even small amounts of physical activity is better than getting none if your goal is to live longer.

In the new paper, which combined results from nine cohort studies, researchers focussed on the possible mortality benefits of varying levels of physical activity in people age 60 and older. With over 120,000 participants followed an average of 10 years, the analysis found that compared to older adults getting zero exercise, those getting about 75 minutes a week of moderate-to-vigorous activity had a 22 percent lower risk of premature death.  Though it’s unclear exactly why, women showed a greater reduction (32 percent) for this same activity level compared to men (14 percent).

What is notable about these findings is that 75 minutes a week of activity (15 minutes a day) is half the amount recommended by most exercise guidelines focussed on health.  And there are an increasing number of studies demonstrating the benefits of getting even just small amounts of physical activity on a regular basis – as long as it’s more than zero.  We even posted a story in 2010 about a study that found that cycling just 5 minutes a day could significantly help with weight control.

Of course, reaching recommended levels of physical activity – and even going beyond them – has an even greater impact on health, well-being, and weight control.  In the current analysis in older adults, for example, the risk of dying further dropped to 28 percent in those getting recommended levels of activity of 150 minutes per week, with risk dropping 35 percent for those in the highest level of activity.

So, getting 150 minutes per week or more of moderate activity remains an important goal. But, to many people, especially those who’ve been sedentary for a long time or have health issues, 150 minutes per week can feel daunting.  Add to this the intimidating images we’re exposed to on social media and television of sculpted Crossfit bodies and featherweight marathoners, and it can feel like fitness is an unattainable goal.   But what this study and others like it now show is that there is real benefit when someone simply moves from doing nothing to doing something.  And that’s something almost everyone can do.  And it’s a great place to start.

Photo: Creative Common License; Flickr/Nimo_ji

The full analysis appeared early online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

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