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15-minute Investment in a Longer Life

Conquest - Spring 2012

Physical activity provides 
health benefits

Taiwanese who exercised for 15 minutes a day, or 92 minutes per week, extended their expected lifespan by three years compared to people who were inactive, according to a recent finding.

“Exercising at very light levels reduced mortality from all causes by 14%,” says study senior author Xifeng Wu, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of MD Anderson’s Department of Epidemiology. “The benefits of exercise appear to be significant, even without reaching the recommended 150 minutes or more per week, recommended by the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans."

Lead author, Chi-Pang Wen, M.D., Dr.P.H., of the National Health Research Institutes of Taiwan, and colleagues also found that a person’s risk of death from all causes decreased by 4% for every additional 15 minutes of exercise up to 100 minutes a day during the course of the study.

“These benefits were applicable to all age groups, both sexes and those with cardiovascular disease risk,” the authors note.

Exercise key to health

If inactive people in Taiwan were to do low-volume daily exercise, one in six deaths could be postponed, the authors report. It would be an estimated reduction in mortality similar to that from a successful tobacco control program.

The prospective observational study involved 416,175 Taiwanese who participated in a standard medical screening program run by MJ Health Management Institution, a health screening company, between 1996 and 2008. Participants were followed for an average of eight years.

For the exercise study, participants completed a questionnaire covering their medical history and lifestyle information. They characterized their weekly physical activity for the previous month by intensity — light (e.g., walking), moderate (e.g., brisk walking), vigorous (e.g., jogging) or high vigorous (e.g., running) — and length of time engaged in each activity category.

Based on the intensity and duration of their exercise, the participants were grouped into five categories: inactive, low, medium, high or very high — with 54% of all participants in the inactive category. Researchers calculated mortality risk and life expectancy for each group. 

To account for physical activity at work, participants were also classified into four different activity levels, ranging from sedentary to hard physical labor.

Thirteen other variables were analyzed to control for possible confounding effects: age, sex, education level, physical labor at work, smoking, alcohol use, fasting blood sugar, systolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, body mass index, diabetes, hypertension and history of cancer.

Those who engaged in low-volume exercise had lower death rates than inactive people regardless of age, gender, health status, tobacco use, alcohol consumption or cardiovascular disease risk.

Reported in the Oct. 1, 2011, edition of The Lancet.

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