Health & Wellness

The kind of exercise that actually extends your life

To work out, or to work out — that is no longer the question.

Now, amid an onslaught of messages suggesting one extreme or another — 10,000 steps per day, or a quick 7-minute workout — the question is: how and how much?

The answer: All amounts — even tiny bursts — of daily exercise that reaches moderate-to-vigorous exertion reduce your chances of developing premature health risks and an early death, says a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

“For about 30 years, guidelines have suggested that moderate-to-vigorous activity could provide health benefits, but only if you sustained the activity for 10 minutes or more,” says study author Dr. William E. Kraus, of Duke University School of Medicine.

But this contradicts every public health recommendation regarding daily exercise — suggestions like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or parking farther away from your destination and walking the extra distance. Those don’t amount to 10 minutes, Kraus says — so why are they recommended?

They’re recommended because accumulating 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise per day, in short bursts throughout, is as good as one longer stretch of sustained physical activity. Moderate exertion was defined as brisk walking at a pace that makes it hard to carry a conversation. Boosting that pace to a jog would be vigorous exercise for most people, he says.

In the study, Kraus and researchers from the National Cancer Institute analyzed data from 4,840 people who were 40 years and older, between 2003 and 2006. Participants’ physical activity was quantified and recorded via accelerometers – a worn device that measures acceleration of a moving or vibrating body. They then compared that data to records showing 4,140 participants were still living in 2011 to determine the effects of exercise on longevity and health.

The team found that people who accumulated less than 20 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise daily were at the highest risk of death. Participants who got in 60 minutes of activity per day, reduced their risk of death by more than half (57%). People who got in 100 minutes of exercise further reduced that risk of death by 76%.

And there you have it — in the race of life, the steadiness of the tortoise and the vigor of the hare will get you farthest.

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