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‘A little exercise’ can help to boost longevity

Study links more activity with lower risk of early death

Just a small increase in light activity, such as washing dishes, gentle gardening or shuffling around the house, could help to stave off an early death among older adults, researchers have claimed.

Being sedentary has been linked to an increased risk of developing many conditions, including heart disease, as well as an early death.

Ulf Ekelund, a professor and first author of the study at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, said that for elderly people, who might not be able to do much moderate-intensity activity, moving around and doing light-intensity activity is beneficial.

Published in the BMJ, the latest research involved a review of eight studies encompassing a total of more than 36,000 people with an average age of almost 63 years. Participants were followed for about five to six years and 2,149 deaths were recorded.

All the studies involved monitoring the physical activity of individuals who had activity trackers.

For each study, participants were split into four equal-sized groups, based on the total amount of time spent active and the risk of death assessed, taking into account factors such as age, sex, body-mass index and socioeconomic status. This was then repeated for an amount of activity at different levels of intensity.

The team found a greater volume of activity overall was linked to a lower risk of death.

Compared with those who managed the least light physical activity, of about 200 minutes a day, those who clocked up about 258 minutes a day had a 40% lower risk of death, and those who managed about 308 minutes had a 56% lower risk.

The group with the highest levels of light physical activity – achieving about 380 minutes a day – had a 62% lower risk of death than the group that did the least. The team said this was about twice as big an effect as previously thought, possibly due to more accurate data collection.

For moderate to vigorous activity, the trend was similar, even when levels of sedentary time were taken into account. Compared with those who managed the least, of about 90 seconds a day, those who managed about six minutes a day had a 36% lower risk of death, while those who managed most, about 38 minutes a day, had a 48% lower risk of death.

The team said the study supported the message “sit less and move more and more often”.

Gavin Sandercock, of the University of Essex, told the Guardian the results suggested moving more brought bigger benefits than simply reducing sedentary time, another factor measured in the study. “This study reinforces the important message that getting the least active people to do even just a little bit more physical activity can have important public health benefits,” he said.