Just 10 minutes of exercise a week cuts death risk


Even very short bursts of physical activity pay dividends. Andrew Masterson reports.


Physical activity lasting as little as 10 minutes a week results in a decrease in mortality risk.

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It sounds like a line from a shonky self-help promotion but researchers from China’s Shandong University have established that just 10 minutes of exercise a week can substantially reduce the risk of death.

In a paper published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Min Zhao and colleagues show that even gentle exercise – such as walking or gardening – conducted for between 10 and 59 minutes a week results in an 18% decrease in all-cause mortality over any given 10-year period.

To make their findings, the researchers looked at data contained within the US National Health Interview Surveys (NHIS) between 1997 and 2008.

The NHIS is administered by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and has been in operation since 1957. Every year, a representative sample of the population is asked a series of questions about health, medical and lifestyle matters.

Of interest to Zhao and colleagues were the data collected for 88,140 people aged between 40 and 85. The details were then correlated with recorded deaths up until the end of 2011.

The outcome was stark. People who did between 10 minutes and 59 minutes of exercise a week in their leisure time had an 18% lower risk of all-cause mortality compared to those who simply slobbed around.

And, perhaps not so surprisingly, the mortality risk decreased still further as exercise habits grew more substantial.

People who exercised for between 150 and 299 minutes every week reduced overall risk of death by 31%. And those who went hard, doing 1500 minutes or more each week, reduced risk by a hefty 46%.

However, the relationship between activity levels and death from cardiovascular causes alone wasn’t quite so straightforward. People exercising for between 10 and 59 minutes each week cut their risk by 12% and those who upped it to between 120 and 299 minutes did so by 37%.

Seriously energetic people, on the other hand, doing more than 1500 minutes of exercise a week, cut risk by a lesser amount, just 33%, indicating that for heart health, at least, there is an exercise optimum beyond which the law of diminishing returns kicks in.

  1. https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2019/02/26/bjsports-2018-099254
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis/index.htm
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