Just 20 minutes of daily activity can save couch potatoes from an early death

TROMSØ, Norway — Middle-aged individuals can significantly reduce their risk of premature death by engaging in just 20 to 25 minutes of daily exercise, a new study explains.

The study found that dedicating this time to physical activity can extend life for those over 50, irrespective of their sedentary behavior — like sitting for hours. Moreover, increasing the exercise duration can further decrease the risk.

Earlier studies indicate that adults typically spend nine to 10 hours seated daily, predominantly during work. Extended sedentary behavior has been linked with an increased mortality risk. The researchers emphasize that prior studies on the advantages of exercise to offset extended sitting times primarily used aggregated data, which might not offer precise insights.

In contrast, this study combines data from individual participants from four separate groups equipped with activity trackers. This was done to determine if physical activity could alter the relationship between sedentary behavior and mortality and vice versa. The research integrated data from two Norwegian studies, a Swedish study, and an American study, collected between 2003 and 2019.

The analysis involved over 11,000 participants 50 and older. These participants recorded at least four days with 10 hours of daily activity tracker logs and were observed for a minimum of two years. They also supplied information on factors like gender, education level, weight, height, smoking habits, alcohol consumption, and health history, including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, or diabetes.

Older woman walking
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From the total, 5,943 individuals sat less than 10.5 hours daily, while 6,042 sat for 10.5 hours or more. The data analysis reveals that those sitting more than 12 hours daily had a 38-percent increased mortality risk compared to those sitting just eight hours. However, this was mainly observed in individuals who engaged in under 22 minutes of moderate-to-intense daily physical activity.

According to the study’s lead author, Dr. Edvard Sagelv, engaging in over 22 minutes of moderate-to-intense activity daily displayed a link to a lower risk of premature death. This reduced risk was evident regardless of sedentary hours, but the relationship between sedentary behavior and mortality was significantly influenced by the amount of active exercise. The researchers add that light physical activity was beneficial mainly for those seated more than 12 hours daily.

“Small amounts of MVPA [moderate to vigorous physical activity] may be an effective strategy to ameliorate the mortality risk from high sedentary time, where accumulating more than 22 mins of MVPA eliminates the risk of high sedentary time,” concludes Dr. Sagelv, from The Arctic University of Norway, in a media release. “Efforts to promote physical activity may have substantial health benefits for individuals.”

The study is published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

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South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.

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