A new study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine showed how one type of light exercise can dramatically lower your all-cause mortality rate. And when I say light exercise, I mean very light exercise. It doesn’t even meet the government’s “recommended levels” of exercise.
Despite the mounting evidence about the benefits of light exercise and the harms of overdoing it, fitness gurus and government health “experts” try to convince us more and more vigorous exercise is always better.
As I reported yesterday, a massive, new study links more exercise with more heart disease!
Two important findings came out of that study:
1. Exercising at the national “standard” level (2.5 hours per week) did not improve arterial calcification, a key predictor of cardiovascular risk, compared to “minimum” levels of exercise.
2. Exercising at three times the government “minimum” (7.5 hours per week) increased the rate of arterial calcification by 86 percent among white males.
So, what good are government standards when the science shows that achieving them doesn’t benefit health (and, in fact, are harmful)?
New study confirms less-is-better philosophy
As I mentioned above, the government recommends you get 2.5 hours of light activity like walking (or 75 minutes of vigorous activity) each week. But the new study, which looked specifically at walking, found you don’t even have to reach that minimum level to gain significant health benefits!
For this study, researchers reviewed data on more than 62,000 men and 77,000 women in the Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort. The average age of participants was 71 years for men and 69 years in women at the outset.
The researchers followed participants from 1999 to 2013. And they controlled for underlying risk factors — including smoking, obesity and chronic conditions — that would affect the results.
When it came time for analysis, they divided the participants into four groups:
• Those who did not walk at all
• Those who walked less than two hours per week (less than government’s recommended level of weekly exercise)
• Those who walked two to six hours per week (meeting/exceeding the government’s minimum recommended level of exercise)
• Those who walked more than six hours per week (exceeding the government’s recommended level)
Six percent of men and 7 percent of women did not walk at all on a weekly basis. As you might expect, this group had the highest mortality risk over the 15-year study.
Interestingly enough, researchers found that the participants didn’t have to walk very much to lower their all-cause mortality. In fact, those who walked for less than two hours per week had a lower all-cause mortality than those who didn’t get any physical activity weekly. In fact, they were 26 percent less likely to die over the study period than those who didn’t walk at all.
But remember, two hours a week of light exercise is still less than the government’s recommended levels.
Additionally, there was no real difference between those who met and those who exceeded the government’s recommended 2.5 hours of walking weekly. Both groups had just a 20 percent lower mortality risk than those who walked less than two hours a week.
A little walking adds up to a lot of benefits
The real problem comes from being completely inactive. And you get the biggest gain in longevity just by adding less than two hours of light activity to your week. Anything else on top of that amount gets you only a minimal added boost.
In addition, I should note, the participants in the study walked at a pace that covers about one mile in 20 minutes. This pace certainly doesn’t qualify as “power walking” and only requires a slight increase in breathing.
Most people don’t realize that walking at this pace represents moderate intensity exercise for purposes of health and longevity. And previous research also links this level of activity to lower rates of Type II diabetes, heart disease, as well as breast and colon cancers.
The bottom line?
Doing any walking is most important, compared to doing none at all. And the government’s guidelines for higher levels of moderate and strenuous activity don’t appear to be based on actual scientific evidence. (No surprise there.)
So — make sure to get out and walk for a total of about two hours per week for optimal benefits. Swimming, yard work, housework, and other moderate physical activity will likely confer the same benefits.
In an interview with Medscape, the study’s lead researcher suggested you walk and talk instead of sitting around a conference table for work meetings. This practice will double the productive use of your time.
With cold or inclement weather coming, you can also try walking in an indoor shopping mall.
If you still have a gym membership for your winter workouts, here’s my advice…
Bundle up and walk to the gym. Enjoy the crisp late-fall/early-winter landscape. Then, when you arrive at the gym, turn around and walk back.
Not only will your joints thank you, but you’ll still reap the benefits without the costs, crowds, sweat, and smell. Now that’s what I call working smarter, not harder.
“Walking in Relation to Mortality in a Large Prospective Cohort of Older U.S. Adults,” Am. J. Preventive Medicine, October 19, 2017.
“Regular Walking, Even if Minimal, Tied to Lower Death Risk,” Medscape (www.medscape.com) 10/19/2017