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Daily Exercise Boosts Lifespan

Daily exercise including muscle strengthening and aerobic activity reduces the risk of premature death from a wide range of conditions.

Everyone agrees that exercise is beneficial for your health, though not everyone actually participates in daily exercise. Muscle-strengthening exercise, in particular, can reduce the risk of premature death (British Journal of Sports Medicine, Feb. 28, 2022). What’s more, it doesn’t take a lot. Just 30 to 60 minutes a week of push-ups, sit-ups, weight lifting, using resistance bands, or even digging in the garden can be protective. How can people be inspired to get up and move?

Testing Behavior Change Strategies to Encourage Daily Exercise:

Although the health benefits of regular exercise are well-known, health experts don’t know how to get people to actually participate in physical activity. A new study tested behavior change strategies in a study of about 300 sedentary older individuals (JAMA Network Open, Feb. 29, 2024).

Researchers divided these volunteers into three groups who were asked to participate in an exercise program on their own three times a week. One group served as a control. Another group was encouraged to set goals as an incentive to move. The third group used peer-to-peer experience sharing. All participants wore an accelerometer for objective measurement of their physical activity.

Only the volunteers in the third group increased their activity significantly by the end of the year. Daily step counts were up by nearly 1,000, and people fit in more than 10 extra minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily. These results suggest that one of our favorite tactics, exercising with friends, is worth consideration.

Optimal Exercise Combination to Delay Death:

A recent study considered what types of exercise are best (JAMA Internal Medicine, Aug. 7, 2023) to reduce all-cause or cancer mortality? To find out, an international group of investigators analyzed data from the US National Health Interview Survey. More than 500,000 adults participated in this research, and the volunteers were followed for a median of 10 years. The authors were especially interested in different kinds of activity: moderate aerobic physical activity (MPA), vigorous aerobic physical activity (VPA) and muscle strengthening activity (MSA). They wanted to know about the optimal combination of exercise for longevity.

What they learned from half a million people is that balanced amounts of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity and a comparable amount of muscle strengthening exercise reduced people’s risk of dying during the ten years of follow-up. They saw the greatest reduction in risk of dying from any cause in people who did up to 75 minutes of MPA, 150 minutes of VPA and at least two MSA sessions each week. Cardiovascular mortality was lowest among people with more MPA, up to 225 minutes a week, and up to 75 minutes of VPA along with at least two strengthening sessions. Those who engaged in even more MPA, up to 300 minutes a week, along with 75 minutes of vigorous exercise and two MSA sessions had the lowest risk of dying from cancer. In order to achieve those weekly totals, daily exercise, or near-daily exercise, is required.

Studies of Daily Exercise and Longevity:

The results of a meta-analysis of cohort studies published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggest that even less daily exercise can be protective. The investigators analyzed data from 16 studies, with participants between the ages of 18 and 98 years old. Muscle-strengthening activity was linked to lower risks of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and mortality from any cause. Including aerobic activity in the analysis demonstrated that people who exercised more were less likely to die early. These vigorous individuals had less cardiovascular disease or cancer.

How Much Daily Exercise Will Protect You?

The meta-analysis found that people benefited from strength-building exercise for just an hour a week. Spreading it out over multiple sessions in the week works best. In previous research, as little as 15 minutes of daily exercise made a difference for longevity.

Many people feel as if they are either too busy or too stressed out to exercise every day. A frequent excuse is, “I don’t have time to put in 30 minutes to an hour working out at the gym every day.” Aside from the fact that exercise can help reduce stress, they don’t need an hour every day.

A decade ago, a study published in The Lancet tracked over 400,000 Taiwanese volunteers for roughly eight years (The Lancet, online Aug. 16, 2011). Those who exercised even moderately for a quarter of an hour daily lived three years longer than their inactive countrymen. The more people exercised, the better their chance of living longer. Moreover, half an hour of daily exercise improved life expectancy by an additional year. The bottom line seems to be that regular exercise, even just 15 minutes daily, can improve lifespan.

Learn More by Listening:

We have discussed the benefits of daily exercise and how to motivate yourself to manage it in some of our podcasts. You might want to listen to Show 1264: How to Make Exercise More Enjoyable. Show 1182: How to Use Exercise as Medicine is also worthwhile.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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  • Momma H et al, "Muscle-strengthening activities are associated with lower risk and mortality in major non-communicable diseases: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies." British Journal of Sports Medicine, Feb. 28, 2022. DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2021-105061
  • McMahon SK et al, "Effect of intrapersonal and interpersonal behavior change strategies on physical activity among older adults: A randomized clinical trial." JAMA Network Open, Feb. 29, 2024. DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2024.0298
  • López-Bueno R et al, "Prospective associations of different combinations of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity with all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality." JAMA Internal Medicine, Aug. 7, 2023. DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2023.3093
  • Wen CP et al, "Minimum amount of physical activity for reduced mortality and extended life expectancy: a prospective cohort study." The Lancet, online Aug. 16, 2011. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60749-6
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