BOSTON — We all know exercise is a key to a long healthy life, but it’s also much harder on our bodies as we age. Now a new study shows that moderate exercise, such as taking brisk walks, can lead to huge potential benefits for older women, particularly when it comes to lifespan.
Current exercise guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week for peak health. This recent study by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that women have a much higher life expectancy if they regularly engage in moderate exercise.
“The fact the physical activity lowers mortality rate is nothing new – we have many studies showing this. However, previous studies have primarily relied on self-reported physical activity, and self-reports tend to be imprecise,” says I-Min Lee, first author of the study and associate epidemiologist at the hospital, in a media release.
Researchers looked at data from 16,741 women in their early 70s who participated in the hospital’s Women’s Health Study. The participants were instructed to wear accelerometer devices on their wrists to measure physical activity for a week. At the end of the four-year study period, the authors found that activities such as brisk walks lowered the risk of death in participants by 60 to 70 percent when compared to women who didn’t exercise.
“For context, non-smokers have about a 50 percent reduction, compared with smokers,” says Lee.
Walking slowly and other forms of light exercise did not appear to lower a participant’s risk of death during the study. That said, Lee emphasizes that light activity doesn’t have other benefits and shouldn’t be stopped — it simply didn’t factor into this particular study.
“This study supports current guidelines for physical activity, such as those from the federal government and the American Heart Association, that emphasize moderate-intensity physical activity. It also adds to existing evidence that can inform upcoming physical activity guidelines over time,” says Lee.
The study was published Nov. 6, 2017 in the journal Circulation.