Very Small Amounts of Exercise Can Reap Huge Benefits

Low doses of physical activity can improve your health and longevity at any age.

Posted May 16, 2015

Pixabay/Free Image
Source: Pixabay/Free Image

In a perfect world of public health, all of us would adhere to the The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans which recommend 60 minutes of daily aerobic activity for children ages 6-17 (there are no specifications for children under five), and 30 minutes a day for adults ages 18-64.

Unfortunately, a wide range of circumstances cause most of us to get less exercise than we should. Luckily, two new studies have shown that even a small amount of exercise—for a short duration of time and at a low intensity—goes a long way.

The first study,”Low-Dose Physical Activity Reduces Mortality in the Elderly. A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” was presented on May 15, 2015 at “EuroPRevent 2015” by Dr. David Hupin from the Department of Clinical and Exercise Physiology at the University Hospital of St-Etienne-Lyon, France. 

Fifteen Minutes of "Light" Activity Can Improve Your Health and Longevity

The French study of more than 1,000 elderly subjects found a negative correlation between a person's level of physical activity and his or her risk of "all-cause" death. In his presentation, Hupin emphasized that physical activity reduces mortality rates in a "dose-dependent" way, but even low levels of exercise (well below the current public health recommendations) have a protective effect.

As a simple rule of thumb for the elderly, Hupin recommends a minimum of 15 minutes of activity five days a week as a suitable target behavior. He is hopeful that this report will encourage anyone who traditionally views exercise as disagreeable or painful will be inspired to include "low doses" of activity into their daily routine. 

Based on their findings, the French researchers are encouraging public health experts to revise their recommendations for the quantity and intensity of exercise that is necessary to reap health benefits as we age. Hupin concluded, "This message should be relayed by general practitioners, who play a key and essential role in promoting exercise behavior in the elderly. Even a little is good, and more may be better." 

Pixabay/Free Image
Source: Pixabay/Free Image

Two-Minute Breaks from Sitting Can Offset the Hazards of Sedentarism

“Sitting is the new smoking,” according to Dr. James Levine, of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative. Levine is the author of, Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It, and the inventor of the treadmill desk. Levine believes that sitting is a bigger public health problem than smoking. Luckily, the detriments of sitting can be negated by standing up and moving around.

Workwhilewalking, labeled for reuse.
Source: Workwhilewalking, labeled for reuse.

In another recent study on the benefits of small doses of physical activity, researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine found that people who got up and moved around for at least two minutes for every hour of sitting had a 33 percent lower risk of dying.

The May 2015 study, “Light-Intensity Physical Activities and Mortality in the United States General Population and CKD Subpopulation,” was published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology

The researchers consider "light-intensity" exercise to include activities such as: walking around the office, taking the stairs instead of an elevator or escalator, or taking a short walk on a coffee break.

For the study, lead author Dr. Srinivasan Beddhu and colleagues examined data from 3,626 participants in the federal National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The study participants wore accelerometers to measure the intensity of their activity throughout the day.

The statistics of this study are inspiring—especially for anyone who hates to exercise. In a press release, Beddhu said, "If you can do five minutes every hour, you can actually end up burning 1,000 additional calories a week. That can decrease fat tissue and help maintain or even lose weight." In a conclusion that echoed the findings from the French report, Beddhu concluded: "Our study suggests that even small changes can have a big impact."

Conclusion: “Do Something  . . .  Do Anything!’

Mark Twain once advised, “The secret to getting ahead is getting started. The secret to getting started is breaking your complex and overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and starting on the first one.” This advice can apply to anything in life, including daily physical activity or an exercise regime. 

If the traditional recommendation of 30-60 minutes of exercise most days of the week is daunting, discouraging, or overwhelming to you—hopefully these new findings will motivate you to break your exercise quotient into "doable doses" of light activity. On page 47 of The Athlete’s Way I sum up this advice saying:

Do something . . . do anything! Remember to take it slow. You don’t have to kill yourself—just getting the blood moving is your goal. A small time commitment will reap huge benefits. As little as 15 to 30 minutes most days of the week is all you need to be doing to see results. That’s less than 3 percent of your waking day, and you’ll feel better for the other 97 percent. Think about it. Be pragmatic. That’s a great return on investment.

Please use common sense when making a resolution to exercise more or sit less, and remember... as little as 15 minutes of light exercise a day can reap huge benefits.

If you’d like to read more on this topic, check out my Psychology Today blog posts:

© Christopher Bergland 2015. All rights reserved.

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