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15 Minutes Daily Exercise Minimum Needed to Extend Lifespan

15 minutes Adds Three Years—More Findings on Brief Exercise

Surprisingly, people living in East Asian countries such as China, Japan, and Taiwan exercise even less than people in western countries. East Asians are less physically active than Americans, and are also inclined to exercise at lower intensities. A third of American adults exercise 30 minutes or more a day, while less than a fifth of the adult populations in East Asia do the same.

Taiwanese people apparently have no time to exercise and have growing medical expenses to prove it. Researchers from Taiwan wondered if they could find a lower bar that their countrymen might be willing to jump over. They set out to assess the health benefits of different amounts of physical activity. They were particularly interested in whether the commonly recommended 30 minutes is the minimum amount of daily exercise necessary to extend life expectancy.  

It’s not. They found that 15 minutes lowers the risk of death and extends life. They also found that more exercise does more. Their findings were widely reported here and in Canada. I assume it was newsworthy in East Asia as well. The 15 minute finding should be welcome news everywhere.

“[This study] may convince many individuals that they are able to incorporate physical activity into their busy lives,” an accompanying editorial by Dr. Anil Nigam, chief of clinical care at the Montreal Heart Institute, opined hopefully. The study and the editorial appeared October 1, 2011, in The Lancet.

The Taiwanese researchers quizzed 416,175 adult men and women about their exercise habits; they had already been medically screened. After separating them into five groups ranging from inactive to highly active, the researchers tracked changes in their health status for an average of eight years.

They found that just 15 minutes a day of exercise, or 90 minutes a week, was associated with a 14% lower risk of death and an extra three years of projected life expectancy. Importantly, they also found that each additional 15 minutes of daily activity reduced the risk of death by an additional 4%. “These benefits were applicable to all age groups and both sexes, and to those with cardiovascular disease risks,” the researchers wrote. “Individuals who were inactive had a 17% increased risk of mortality compared with individuals in the low-volume group.” A small increase in activity can make a big difference.

Clearly, it doesn’t take much movement to make the body run better and longer. Equally clear is that more is better.

Taiwan isn’t the only source of such news.

More Good News About Brief Exercise

In a “Guide to Beating a Heart Attack” (April 17, 2012), The Wall Street Journal reported that a brisk daily walk of only 10-minute results in a nearly 50% reduction in heart-attack risk. Extrapolating from studies that tracked exercise in hours per week, The Journal wrote: “Experts recommend 30 minutes of activity per day to lower the risk of heart attack. But even doing 10 or 20 minutes can greatly reduce risk.”

What’s more, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is currently showing a 15-episode 2012 documentary called “The Truth About Exercise.” Featuring Dr. Michael Mosley as his own guinea pig, the documentary highlights new research on the surprising benefits of only three minutes of high intensity exercise a week. “It’s actually very simple,” Moseley tells readers/viewers. “You get on an exercise bike, warm up by doing gentle cycling for a couple of minutes, then go flat out for 20 seconds. A couple of minutes to catch your breath, then another 20 seconds at full throttle. Another couple of minutes gentle cycling, then a final 20 seconds going hell for leather. That’s it.”

Mosley huffs and puffs and sweats on air, but his results are mixed. Several weeks of this routine three times a week improved his insulin sensitivity “by a remarkable 24%.” That was as expected. His aerobic fitness, however, didn’t improve. Mosley did not expect that. His explanation: “It turns out that the genetic test they did on me had suggested I was a non-responder and however much exercise I had done, and of what ever form, my aerobic fitness would not have improved.” Unknown to him, his technical advisor had predicted this result in advance.

Mosley’s fascinating demonstration is apparently based on a study from the University of Bath, which was published in the 2011 European Journal of Applied Physiology. The Bath researchers found that 10-minute exercise sessions as performed in the documentary over a six weeks training period improved insulin sensitivity by 28% and increased peak aerobic capacity in males by 15% and in females by 12%.

Finally, we have news that brief physical activity—one hour or more per week—combats innate obesity. A meta-analysis including 218,166 adults found that moderate to vigorous physical activity reduced the effects of an obesity gene known as FTO by an average of 27%. Reporting their findings in the November, 2011, issue of the journal PLoS Medicine, the researchers concluded that physically activity is particularly important in “those genetically predisposed to obesity.”

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People everywhere are running out of excuses for being inactive. The reasons to exercise are becoming simply overwhelming.

Fifteen minutes a day! My goodness, you can do that walking back and forth from the water cooler. Once you put movement into your life, you won’t want to go reverse course. Movement feels good—and staying still not so good. Your mind works better when you move, and slows down when you don’t.

I fill my day with movement and benefit in many ways.

You might try making movement a regular part of your day. Experiment and find what suits you and your surroundings. Do it your way. Try it, you’ll like it.

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