For years, groups like the American Heart Association released guidelines for physical activity for adults. The AHA, for instance, recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days per week. Another option is at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least three days per week.
The old benchmark of a total of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week rightly suggests that people get health benefits from exercise. But it added that the benefits were obtained only if the activity lasts for ten minutes or longer. Results from a study released earlier this year challenges that theory.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found that the length of time a person performs an activity is unrelated to the benefit of living longer. It reported that even short bursts of vigorous activity, like five minutes of brisk walking or jogging, add up to produce health benefits.
The researchers studied the activity habits and health of nearly 5,000 adults age 40 and older for four years. They gathered the participants’ activity levels through wearable tracking devices. After looking at the impact of activities as brief as one minute, the researchers discovered that all of the activity, whatever its duration, helped reap health benefits, as long as the activity reached a moderate or vigorous intensity.
To help update its own physical activity guidelines, the US Department of Health and Human Services commissioned an advisory committee to systematically review the scientific evidence on physical activity, fitness and health. The committee issued their report in March.
The committee’s findings will help HHS as they prepare their new edition of Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. It remains to be seen if the new HHS guidelines will include the benefits of shorter bursts of activity or if it will stick to the “ten-minute rule.” The guidelines are due out later this year.
OK, let’s talk about the health benefits of adding physical activity to your weekly routine. There are lots of them, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The benefit most people know about is that it reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases, mainly heart disease and stroke. What’s more, it can lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels.
Physical activity can help you control your weight, whether you need to lose or just maintain your weight. It can reduce your risk for developing Type 2 diabetes; and if you’ve already got it, it can help you control your blood glucose levels.
Being physically active lowers your risk of colon and breast cancer. Some studies suggest it reduces the risk of endometrial and lung cancer as well. It can keep your bones and muscles strong and even help with the pain of arthritis in your hips or knees. Stronger bones and muscles improve balance and prevent falls.
That’s not all. Physical activity can improve your mental health and your mood. It can keep your thinking sharp longer and reduce the risk for depression. When you feel better physically and mentally, you’re better able to perform your daily activities, which improves your quality of life.
Then there’s that little thing about increasing your chances of living longer. Yeah, there’s that.
The government, the American Heart Association and the study’s researchers may state it a little differently, but the message is basically the same. Getting some moderate-intensity or vigorous physical activity into your day is good for your health. Moving really does matter.