Get moving! Exercise really does pay off, says long-term study
Whether you walk or you run, any exercise is good for you, health researchers have found.
Even people who get less exercise than recommended have less risk than folks who don't break a sweat at all.
"If someone is completely inactive, the best thing they can do is even getting out and taking a walk," said Hannah Arem, a health researcher at George Washington University in Washington, District of Columbia.
Some people may think they don't have enough time for small amounts of exercise to matter. The results are "encouraging or perhaps motivating" for these people, Arem said.
She had no role in the study but wrote a commentary published with the results Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.
It's Best To Spread Out Your Exercise
Previously, U.S. and global guidelines called for 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. Ideally, the guidelines asked for exercise to be spread out so you get some on most days.
Those numbers were based on many previous studies, which suggested many health benefits beyond the risk of early death which this study measured.
Some people pack their workouts into one or two sessions a week. These people lower their risk of dying over roughly the next decade nearly as much as people who exercise more often, the new research suggests.
Researchers at Loughborough University in England looked a survey of nearly 64,000 adults in England and Scotland from 1994 to 2008. By last year, 8,802 of these people had died.
Grouped By Amounts Of Exercise
Participants were grouped according to how much exercise they said they got the previous month.
— Inactive people, who did no exercise in their free time, made up 63 percent of the people in the study.
— Regular exercisers made up 11 percent.
— "Weekend warriors"—that is, people who exercise a lot but in one or two sessions—made up 4 percent of the survey.
— Insufficiently active exercisers, who exercise less than the recommended weekly amount, were 22 percent of the study.
For "weekend warriors" and insufficient exercisers, the risk of dying was about 30 percent lower than people who were completely inactive. People who regularly exercised lowered their risk a little more: by 35 percent.
Any amount of activity helped cut the risk of dying of heart disease by about 40 percent, compared to being a couch potato.
Exercise has many other benefits such as helping to prevent dementia, depression, high blood pressure, unhealthy sleep patterns and diabetes, independent experts say. Some of these effects don't last very long, Arem said. The more often you exercise, the more of these benefits you'll experience.
"I don't know that we're ready to say, based on this study, that people shouldn't try to exercise more than that if they can," said Dr. Daniel Rader, preventive cardiology chief at the University of Pennsylvania. "People who exercise more regularly report that they feel like they have a better quality of life," among other benefits, he said.
At Least Do Something
Still, the results are "quite fascinating and a bit surprising" on the "dose" of exercise needed for benefit, Rader said. "Even if you only have time to do something once a week, this study would suggest it's still worth doing."
Still, the study may be imperfect. More than 90 percent of the participants in the study were Caucasian. Because of this, there may not be enough genetic diversity.
Each participant's exercise habits were only assessed at the start of the study, and they could have changed over time.
The biggest limitation is that this type of study can only suggest exercise and health risks may be related. They cannot prove with certainty that they are.