In a recently published paper in the United States which was conducted using statistics of three hundred and fifty thousand people, the following interesting aspects came to light:
150 minutes a week – that is the minimum recommended amount of moderate intensity exercise that the American Federal Government advises people to do to optimise their health. That number wasn’t just randomly decided upon. There is a whole lot of observational data that shows that people that are more physical active have better health outcomes. Those who hit the 150 minutes a week mark have around a 30% overall reduction in mortality rates, even if you control your health status at base line. Only about half of the American population actually get to that level of exercise, with younger people doing better than older people and men getting a bit more exercise than woman in general.
Keeping the above in mind, how do you get more people to exercise? The answer – make it easier for them. So part of the reason that a lot of people miss the 150 minute target is that they simply do not have 30 minutes a day, Monday to Friday, to do a brisk walk or do gym activities. So the question is, is it good enough to hit the weekly target all at once or not? In America where a lot of people’s work does not allow them the 30 minute a day ability to exercise, a term called “the weekend warrior” has developed. These are people that cram al the exercise into a weekend, maybe in two sittings, or even just once. Data however shows that although it is better than nothing to do the exercise all over a weekend, the health benefits are more prevalent in people that spread it over the week days or weekend included.
To analyse the results, the following results have come to light:
Overall the researchers found that, compared with people who do not hit those 150 minutes a week of physical activities, those who do are significantly less likely to die about 15% less. They had 23% less cardiovascular disease and 12% less cancer.
The duration of the exercise does seem to matter and the benefits were more prevalent in people that exercised for more than twenty minutes at a time. This is probably related to the heart rate. Now these studies are not as simple as they seem at first glance. Individuals who are sick with chronic disease may exercise less because of that disease and also be more likely to die because of that disease. The ability to exercise is just an indication of good health. To avoid confounding the results, the authors excluded individuals who had been diagnosed with cancer, bronchitis, emphysema or stroke as the base line. Of course many things impact your ability of exercise and might make you live longer.
Money – it is no secret that in the United States at least having a high income is associated with better health outcomes. High earners may be able to afford a gym membership or a babysitter to watch the kids while they get some exercise.
Take body mass index for example – overweight people that exercise would probably lose weight and just by doing that, improve their outcomes. Conversely, people with high BMI’s might not exercise as much and then generally have worse outcomes.
The authors of this article took in consideration the BMI and adjusted their outcomes accordingly. Even with the above there was a significant reduction in mortality. The adjustments might have actually reduced the amount of 15% and the actual amount reduction in mortality might actually be higher.
Of course physical activity as a medical intervention has just about the best risk benefit ratio you can imagine. It does not cost much, it does not need too much of your time and it has the potential to increase your overall quality of life and longevity.
The moral of the story is: Get some exercise whenever you can. It is very good for you.