Exercise is well-known to improve health, but new research finds that simply adding more movement throughout the day can actually help people live longer.
Those seeking to better their overall health often head to the gym — or, instead, become overwhelmed at the prospect and skip exercise altogether.
A new study has uncovered some hopeful news for those who may be hesitant to engage in an intense fitness regime, however.
Scientists at the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences in Stockholm have found that increased physical activity of any type reduces overall mortality risk "regardless of age, sex, and starting fitness level."
Maximal oxygen uptake
The scientists examined the health records of over 316,000 adults from Sweden who had their first occupational health screening in 1995–2015.
One item they calculated was maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max). This measurement determines how much oxygen the heart and lungs will provide the muscles during exercise. In general, the more someone exercises or moves around, the higher their VO2 max will be.
Their study also looked into Swedish national registries to find data on mortality rates and first-time cardiovascular events, whether they were fatal or nonfatal.
When they looked at the VO2 max and compared it with mortality rates and cardiovascular events, they found that all-cause mortality rates fell by 2.8 percent and cardiovascular events fell by 3.2 percent for each milliliter increase in VO2 max.
The team saw these benefits across all sexes, ages, and starting fitness levels.
"People think they have to start going to the gym and exercising hard to get fitter," explains study author Dr. Elin Ekblom-Bak, of the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences.
"For most people, just being more active in daily life — taking the stairs, exiting the metro a station early, cycling to work — is enough to benefit health since levels are so low to start with. The more you do, the better."
Dr. Elin Ekblom-Bak
Exercise for heart health
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommend engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, which is around 30 minutes per day for 5 days per week.
It can also improve sleeping habits and have positve effects in the brain, including better cognition, memory, attention, and processing speed. It can improve bone health and balance and can reduce the impact of depression and anxiety.
A recent report from the AHA revealed that almost half of all adults in the United States have some type of cardiovascular disease.
According to the most recent figures available, heart disease caused the most deaths in the U.S. in 2016, and stroke was the fifth most common cause of death.
Public health experts continue to work on finding ways to reduce cardiovascular disease rates, and this research could certainly help those who are hesitant to start up an exercise program with a goal of 150 active minutes each week.
The research did uncover that those on the low end of VO2 max showed a greater reduction of risk than those at the high end, but the participants saw positive changes no matter how physically fit they were. A little more movement here and there can add up and benefit someone's overall health.
"Increasing fitness should be a public health priority and clinicians should assess fitness during health screening," Dr. Ekblom-Bak explains.
"Our previous research has shown that fitness levels in the general population have dropped by 10 percent in the last 25 years. In 2016–2017, almost every second man and woman had a low fitness level, so this is a huge problem."
"Fitness is needed for daily activities," concludes Dr. Ekblom-Bak. "Poor fitness is as detrimental as smoking, obesity, and diabetes even in otherwise healthy adults, yet unlike these other risk factors it is not routinely measured."