Even a little exercise linked to a longer life: Study

Even a little exercise linked to a longer life: Study

Elderly and middle-aged people exercise with wooden dumbbells during a health promotion event to ma
Elderly and middle-aged people exercise with wooden dumbbells during a health promotion event to mark Japan's Respect for the Aged Day at a temple in Tokyo's Sugamo district. (File photo: Reuters/Toru Hanai)

NEW YORK: People who get even a small amount of exercise may be less likely to die prematurely than their more sedentary counterparts, a research review suggests.

Researchers examined data from 10 previously published studies that used accelerometers that track movement to measure the exact amount of active and sedentary time spent by more than 36,000 older adults. 

After an average follow-up period of 6.7 years, a total of 2,149 people died, or about 6 per cent of the participants.

Compared to people who got virtually no exercise, people who got the most physical activity were 73 per cent less likely to die during the study, regardless of how intensely they worked out. With even a little exercise, people were 52 per cent less like to die.

women exercising stretching in a fitness class
Women stretching in a fitness class (Photo: Unsplash/Geert Pieters)

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When researchers looked only at people who did light workouts, they again found that even a little bit of low-intensity exercise was associated with a 40 per cent lower risk of death during the study compared with doing nothing at all. People who got the most light-intensity exercise were 62 per cent less likely to die.

"The finding that higher levels of light-intensity physical activity reduce the risk of death is novel and suggests that all physical activity counts," said Ulf Ekelund, lead author of the study and a researcher at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo.

"This is of particular importance for elderly and those who may not be able to participate in physical activity at moderate and higher intensities," Ekelund said by email. "The simple take-home message is to sit less, move more, and move more often."

Elderly couple cycling
Elderly people exercise at a public park in Hanoi, Vietnam. (Photo: Reuters/Kham)

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Physical inactivity has long been linked to an increased risk of premature death and a wide variety of chronic health problems, but much of this evidence has been based on surveys that might not provide an accurate picture of how much exercise people really get, the review team writes in The BMJ.

In the current analysis, participants were 63 years old, on average. All of them wore accelerometers for at least 10 hours a day for four or more days to track how much they moved, the intensity of their activity levels and how much time they were sedentary and not moving at all.

People who were sedentary for 10 hours a day were 48 per cent more likely to die during the study than people who moved more. Twelve hours a day of sedentary time was associated with an almost tripled risk of death during the study.

When researchers excluded people who died within the first two years of follow-up - who might have been sicker than others, explaining their inactivity - the results didn't change.

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How to beat the post holiday blues outdoor cycling
(Photo: Unsplash)

One limitation of the study is that it looked at men and women combined, making it impossible to determine if there are any sex-based differences in the connection between activity levels and longevity. 

Participants were also middle-aged and older, so it's unclear if results would be similar for younger adults.

"By reducing sedentary time people increase activity, therefore, it is likely that both are not independent factors and that they represent two sides of the same coin," said Jochen Klenk, author of an editorial accompanying the study and a researcher the Institute of Epidemiology and Medical Biometry at Ulm University in Germany.

"Based in the results of the paper, is seems that any level of intensity is beneficial," Klenk said by email.

Source: Reuters/nr