Data combined from eight long-term studies draw a clear conclusion – even light physical activity reduces the risk of early death, so sit less, get up and move around.
It’s well-known that regular exercise delivers many health benefits, but now several international studies show that even light intensity physical activity – standing and cooking or doing dishes, for example – can help reduce the risk of early death in middle aged and older adults.
Researchers from the U.S, U.K, Sweden, and Norway followed 36,000 adults for about seven years on average in eight different longitudinal studies. The findings are clear – sitting around increases the risk of death, but for those who might be unable to go for long walks or do high intensity exercise, just getting off the couch and moving around can significantly lower their risk of death.
If adults aged 40 and older spent 9.5 hours a day sitting, it increased their risk of death by nearly 50 percent. If they were sedentary for 12 hours, it increased their risk by nearly 300 percent. On the other hand, doing light physical activities for about 6 hours a day reduced that risk by up to 60 percent.
Dr. Steven P. Hooker, Dean of the College of Health & Human Services at San Diego State University, is a senior author of one of the U.S studies, and has devoted most of his research career to studying physical activity in middle-aged, minority men who carry a high risk for chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and stress.
“Just standing up to prepare a meal, folding clothes, vacuuming, doing chores, window shopping, or even working at a standing desk can make a big difference,” Hooker said. “Past studies looked at moderate to vigorous exercise, but we looked at light intensity physical activity for which we saw significant reductions in the risk of death.”
Hooker led an ancillary of the REGARDS study (Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke) while he was with the University of South Carolina, and was one of the first to use accelerometers to measure physical activity in a large cohort of midlife and older adults. Previous studies depended on participants self-reporting how long and how intensely they were active for, but accelerometers provide a more accurate picture of true activity intensity and duration. The study was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders.
Together, findings from the eight studies were published in the British Medical Journal on August 21, in a retrospective analysis titled ‘Dose-response associations between accelerometry measured physical activity and sedentary time with all-cause mortality: a systematic review and harmonized meta-analysis’.
Hooker was actively involved in physical activity behavioral research prior to becoming dean, and many of his studies are still being published as he and his co-authors continue to analyze the impact of physical activity on several health-related outcomes. This year saw 10 studies he was involved in published, with more to follow next year.
“Light intensity physical activity is achievable for many, compared to more vigorous types of activity that many are incapable of or not inclined to do, because of health issues or being pressed for time,” Hooker pointed out. “So, a little bit more than you’re currently doing gives you a lot more bang for your buck, and sitting less also provides additional benefits.”