Move more, sit less. That is the main message from a new study on the link between exercise and longevity in the over-50s.
The study, published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, examines data from around 3,000 people aged 50-79 who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
It finds that even among people who exercise, those who spend less time sitting and more time moving around tend to live longer.
First author Ezra Fishman, a doctoral candidate in demography at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, says:
"The folks who were walking around, washing the dishes, sweeping the floor tended to live longer than the people who were sitting at a desk."
The study participants wore accelerometers - ultra-sensitive activity trackers that record when the body moves - for 7 days. The researchers then compared this activity data with deaths recorded over the next 8 years.
Least active were five times more likely to die than the most active
When they analyzed the data, the team was struck by the results. The participants whose accelerometers recorded the lowest level of activity were five times more likely to die during the follow-up than those with the highest levels of recorded activity.
Those with the lowest level of activity were also three times more likely to die than the participants in the middle range of activity.
These results confirm findings of other activity tracking studies, but those tend to use records kept by the participants themselves rather than objective recordings taken from tracking devices, says Fishman.
He says when participants are asked to monitor their own exercise levels, they tend to over-report the quantities and frequency. Also, the tracking devices used for NHANES are more precise than those typically used.
"Because the device captures the intensity of activity so frequently, every minute," explains Freeman, "we can actually make a distinction between people who spent 2 hours a day doing those activities versus people who spent an hour and a half."
In their analysis, the team took account of chronic conditions or other factors that might influence the risk of death, including diagnosed illnesses, smoking, age and gender.
The team also excluded participants who underwent a secondary examination to establish if there were any chronic medical conditions. The age range of the participants in the analysis excludes those under 50, because not enough younger people met the study requirements.
'Anything is better than nothing'
The researchers say they did not discover any particular threshold of physical activity above which the link with longer life kicks in.
However, they did learn that just an extra 10 minutes of light activity per day makes a difference, and that replacing just 30 minutes of sitting time with light or moderate-to-vigorous activity produces even better results.
It seems you do not have to build up a good sweat to improve your chances of living longer, says Fishman, who adds:
"Activity doesn't have to be especially vigorous to be beneficial. That's the public health message. When it comes to physical activity, more is better than less, and anything is better than nothing."
Fishman says he would like to see more creative public health initiatives to encourage people to move more. Until this happens, though, he reckons it is up to individuals to do what they can to move more and sit less in their daily lives.
The finding follows another study Medical News Today learned about recently that reveals how regular exercise is critical for heart health and longevity. That research showed even small amounts of physical activity - including standing - are linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and that more exercise may lead to even lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease.