Consistent Physical Activity of Any Kind Can Reduce Risk of Early Death

There has been much criticism over how sedentary the average lifestyle is in modern America and a new study sheds a little more light on just how damaging it might be.  According to a research team from the Columbia University Irving Medical Center (in New York), a little bit of physical activity can actually go quite a long way in terms of improving health outcomes. 

Researchers say that even low-intensity exercise can provide a “statistically significant” 17 percent benefit to overall health. Additionally, moderate or vigorous physical activity can improve outcomes by as much as 35 percent. 

More specifically, lead study author Dr. Keith Diaz explains that the study found adults who sit for more than an hour—without moving—have a higher mortality rate than adults who sit for the same amount of time but in shorter bouts.  “Basically,” he describes, “we found everyone should be taking a break every 30 minutes form their sitting.”  

More importantly, though, the team inquired into what you should do since you are no longer sitting.  Would a quick walk down the hall or around the block help?  Would sprinting be better?  What about pushups or sit-ups or weight training?

To answer these questions, the research team involved 8,000 participants aged 45 and older in tests between 2009 and 2013. The study participants wore an activity monitor for at least four days, with the goal of tracking not only the amount of physical activity but also the intensity.  For this group, researchers also calculated the death rate, through 2017, estimating how much exercise time should be substituted for sitting time to affect mortality rates. 

And this is how they found that even just 30 minutes of low-intensity physical activity could result in the 17 percent benefit. What is even more interesting, however, the team says that even just a minute or two of standing or movement—after sitting for an hour—can gradually decrease your risk for early death. 

Dr. Diaz puts this a little more clearly, saying ten minutes is an optimal base goal.  Just 10 minutes of physical activity, he says, can provide qualitative and quantitative benefit, and that is shifting the narrative we tell ourselves about physical activity.  

He comments, “You can’t just do one bout for one minute; but if you do one minute bouts 10 times—taking a break, going to the water cooler, go to a coworker’s desk—and do it over the course of a day, it negates the effects of sitting.”