Exercise is one of the seven keys of longevity that we discussed in a previous article. Here is the complete list:
- Sleeping seven to eight hours per night
- No eating between meals
- Eating regular breakfasts
- Maintaining a proper weight
- Exercising regularly
- Moderate or no drinking of alcohol
- Not smoking
Today in America, less than one in three people maintain proper body weight. It’s been found that what we eat is probably the largest contributor to this epidemic of weight gain, but we have to also pay attention to another major contributor: a lack of exercise.
Avoid sitting, especially in front of a screen
Our parents were right when they warned us to stop watching so much television. A study that followed 9,000 adults for seven years found that every additional hour spent watching TV or playing video games per day may be associated with an 11% increased risk of death.1 So, does the screen have some kind of life-shortening rays that project through your living room? Well, not exactly. What research suggests is that the acts of “sitting” and “watching” have almost entirely replaced many Americans’ physical activity almost entirely.
The American Cancer Society conducted a study of more than 100,000 participants over a fourteen-year period and found that that men who sit for more than six hours a day have a 20% higher death rate compared to men who sit for three hours or less. Women who sit for six or more hours have a 40% higher death rate.2
You may be thinking, “What if I have to sit at least eight hours a day because of my job?” Consider getting a standing desk. Standing rather than sitting can burn up to fifty extra calories per hour. That may not seem like much, but if you could passively burn an extra 200-300 calories per a day at work, it’s a pretty significant benefit.
All gadgets aside, the real key is to adopt a more active lifestyle. For example, you could take breaks at work to walk for ten minutes. You could do jumping jacks while watching TV instead of sitting. Maybe you could park further away from the supermarket’s entrance to get a few extra steps. All of these little changes will help to increase your active output and reduce your risk of disease and death.
How much should you exercise?
The current official recommendation for physical activity for adults is 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week, which comes out to twenty minutes per day. 45 This is actually down from the previous recommendation from the surgeon general, the Center for Disease Control, and the American College of Sports Medicine3, which formerly recommended thirty minutes per day.
What does the science say? Walking for 150 minutes per week is better than 60 minutes per week. 150 minutes of walking decreases risk for death by 7%. Reducing your walks to half that time drops your benefit by 3% or so. But, walking 300 minutes per week, or forty minutes per day, doubles your benefit for longevity. Walking an hour per day has more than three times the longevity benefit than following the recommended amount.4
Walking is used as an example because it is an activity that most people can do and because walking presents a very small risk of injury. When engaging in any exercise, especially vigorous exercise, it is advised to consult with your physician. This is particularly advised when getting back to exercise or doing it for the very first time.
- Dunstan DW, Barr ELM, Healy GN, et al. Television viewing time and mortality: the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study (AusDiab). Circulation. 2010;121(3):384-91.
- Patel AV, Bernstein L, Deka A, et al. Leisure time spent sitting in relation to total mortality in a prospective cohort of US adults. Am J Epidemiol. 2010;172(4):419-29.
- Pate RR, Pratt M, Blair SN, et al. Physical activity and public health. A recommendation from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine. JAMA. 1995;273(5):402-7.
- Woodcock J, Franco OH, Orsini N, Roberts I. Non-vigorous physical activity and all-casue mortality: systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. Int J Epidemiol. 2011;40(5): 1382-400.