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Even light activity boosts longevity

A man casts his fishing line into a lake.

Sept. 12, 2019—Need a nudge to move more, even a little? Here it is: Any increase in physical activity—regardless of the intensity—helps middle-aged and older people live longer, a new study published in The BMJ suggests.

On the other hand, being sedentary for nine and a half hours every day—sleep excluded—is associated with a significantly increased risk of dying prematurely.

The study examined data from eight past studies. Together, they included 36,383 adults who were at least 40 years old. All of them wore fitness trackers measuring how much they moved and at what intensity.

Researchers divided them into four groups, from the least to the most active. After an average 5.8 years of follow-up, nearly 6% of the participants had died. Moving more—even puttering around the house—cut participants' risk of dying substantially.

Adults who achieved the following levels of activity cut their risk of dying prematurely in half. But then the benefits leveled off.

  • 24 minutes of moderate-intensity activity daily like walking briskly or playing doubles tennis.
  • 5 hours of light-intensity activity daily like slow walking or cooking and washing dishes.

Your takeaway

Health experts generally advise getting at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of physical activity at a moderate intensity every week.

But this study suggests that just 24 minutes of brisk walking or other moderate-intensity activity every day may be optimal for health, the researchers said.

It also underscores the risks of being sedentary—and the benefits of the simplest activities. In short: Sit less, move more and more often.

More fitness tips

Head to the Fitness and Exercise Topic Center for more ideas on staying active.

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