Research suggests physical activity, at any intensity, can help you live longer

Henrietta Strickland
August 23, 2019

Previous research has repeatedly suggested that sedentary behaviour is bad and physical activity is good for health.

In the study, the team analyzed data from eight studies that included more than 36,000 adults, aged 40 and older, who were followed for an average of nearly six years.

Examples of light intensity activity include walking slowly or light tasks such as cooking or washing dishes.

During the 5.8 year follow-up 5.9 per cent of the 36,000 people in the studies had died.

Death rates fell sharply as total activity increased to an amount that was similar to average activity levels in US men and about 10% to 15% lower than activity levels in Scandinavian men and women, the findings showed.

Moreover, increasing time spent active was associated with a sharp decrease in the number of deaths, even when the activity was of light intensity.

It stated that higher levels of any kind of physical activity helped ward off an early grave for most.

Emmanuel Stamatakis, professor of physical activity, lifestyle and population health at the University of Sydney said of the importance of physical activity for life longevity: "People could seek to add more physical acuity to their daily routines when their circumstances and surroundings allow". However, this study suggests health may be optimised with just 24 minutes per day of brisk walking or other forms of moderate-intensity physical activity. Being sedentary for 9.5 hours or more a day, excluding sleeping time, is associated with an increased risk of death.

The researchers note that the study does have some limitations. For example, as all participants were at least 40 years old, the findings may not be applicable to younger people. However, the sample size was large and using accelerometers to measure activity is more accurate than relying on self-reporting from participants.

"These findings really reinforce the saying 'Doing something is better than doing nothing", said Dr. Charlotte Edwardson, an associate professor at the university.

"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 a substantially lower risk of death", said lead author Professor Ulf Ekelund, from the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences in Oslo.

Intensity is usually separated into light, moderate and vigorous and the time in these intensities is then estimated. For example, the difference between the least and second least active groups was about 60 mins of light activity and 5 mins of moderate activity.

Researchers say their results provide important data for informing public health recommendations, and suggest that the public health message might simply be "sit less and move more and more often".

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