Calling all couch potatoes. You can live an extra three years if you exercise for just 15 minutes a day â€“ half the 30-minute minimum prescribed by the World Health Organization.
That’s the heart-warming news from an eight-year study on 400,000 people of all ages in Taiwan. Further studies will be needed to confirm the effect is applicable worldwide, though.
“Halving the daily exercise requirement still yielded significant benefits for men and women, young and old, smokers and non-smokers, and even for high-risk groups such as diabetics and people with high blood pressure,” says Chi-Pang Wen of the National Health Research Institutes in Taipei, Taiwan, head of the research team.
Wen divided his participants into five groups according to the level of exercise they routinely did. He placed them in categories ranging from completely inactive to very active depending on the duration and intensity of the activities they performed â€“ such as walking, running or playing sports. The more exercise they did, the greater the benefits, but the biggest surprise was the disproportionately large leap in benefits for those doing just a little exercise â€“ around 15 minutes a day â€“ as opposed to none at all. That extra sweat added three extra years beyond the lifespan of the idle.
To boot, the risk of cancer fell by 10 per cent and risk of heart disease by 20 per cent. “This is amazing,” says Wen, who hopes the less daunting target will encourage more people to exercise.
More pain, more gain
But the study also confirmed that more pain means more gain: at the end of the eight years, 20, 29 and 35 per cent fewer people had died in the three most energetic groups than in the inactive group. These highly active people can add four to five years to their lifespan compared with non-exercisers.
“Everyone should strive to perform the recommended amount of exercise: 30 minutes per day, five days a week,” says Anil Nigam of the Montreal Heart Institute at the University of Montreal, Canada.
“But importantly, this study tells us that smaller blocks of exercise are also beneficial,” he says. “Many people believe that in order to achieve any benefit from exercise, it must be long and hard, but this study shows this is not the case â€“ so hopefully it will encourage more people to incorporate this manageable amount of exercise into their daily lives.”
If couch potatoes need any further persuasion, they might find it in another new study, led by Lennert Veerman at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, which concludes that 6Â hours of sedentary behaviour per day â€“ not counting sleeping â€“ knocks five years off your life.