Every little chore we do around the house can add years to our lives, suggests new research.
We all seem to agree that physical activity is good for us. A reduced risk of chronic disease and premature mortality are only some of the health benefits of exercising.
However, for most of us, the thought of physical activity conjures up images of sweaty gym-goers and tenacious joggers. We tend to think that we need to be in excellent shape to do this "exercise thing" properly, but research shows that vigorous activity is not the only type that's beneficial.
The study was conducted by scientists at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, who were led by Andrea LaCroix, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at the university.
'Every movement counts'
Prof. LaCroix and colleagues recruited more than 6,300 women aged between 63 and 99 years, and followed them for a period of up to 4.5 years.
For the study, the women wore hip accelerometers that continuously tracked their physical activity for 7 days as the women engaged in their day-to-day tasks.
"Our study shows," says Prof. LaCroix, "for the first time using device-measured light physical activity in older women, that there are health benefits at activity levels below the guideline recommendations."
In fact, the research revealed that for every 30 minutes of light physical activity each day, the risk of mortality fell by 12 percent. Additionally, every 30 minutes of moderate physical activity correlated with a 39 percent drop in mortality risk.
Moreover, these benefits applied to women of various ethnic backgrounds and seemed to be independent of weight or age.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that older adults engage in at least 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity (such as brisk walking) every week, or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week.
But the new research suggests that "[i]mproving levels of physical activity both light and moderate could be almost as effective as rigorous regular exercise at preventing a major chronic disease," says Prof. LaCroix.
"We don't have to be running marathons to stay healthy. The paradigm needs to shift when we think about being active [...] Every movement counts," she adds.
"A lot of what we do on a daily basis is improving our health, such as walking to the mail box, strolling around the neighborhood, folding clothes, and straightening up the house. Activities like these account for more than 55 percent of how older individuals get their daily activity."
Prof. Andrea LaCroix
She also stresses the importance of tailoring physical activity recommendations to the capabilities of the individual.
"Older people expend more energy doing the same kinds of activities they did when younger, so their daily movement has to accommodate for this," she explains. "Think of it as taking a pill (activity level) at different doses (amounts of time) depending on the age of the patient. It's not one size fits all."
"With the increasing baby boomer population in the United States, it is imperative that future health guidelines recommend light physical activity in addition to more strenuous activity," Prof. LaCroix adds.
"When we get up from the couch and chair and move around, we are making good choices and contributing to our health."
The CDC also remind us that "some physical activity is better than none at all. Your health benefits will also increase with the more physical activity that you do."