According to the Washington Post, the relationship between physical activity and overall health and wellbeing has been extensively studied, with numerous studies indicating the importance of exercise in preventing various diseases and improving longevity. However, for many individuals, the recommended amount of exercise can feel overwhelming, leading to the belief that exercise is only beneficial if one is able to commit to a structured exercise regimen. A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, however, indicates that even small amounts of exercise can have a significant impact on mortality and disease risk.

The study, which analyzed health data from over 30 million people, found that walking for just 11 minutes every day could lower an individual’s risk of premature death by almost 25 percent. The findings also revealed that even small amounts of exercise contribute to substantial improvements in longevity and can lower risks of developing or dying of heart disease and many types of cancer. The study’s statistical analysis suggests that 1 in 10 of all early deaths might be averted if each of us got up and moved even a little more than many of us currently do.

The recommended amount of exercise for optimal health has traditionally been 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. In practical terms, this means brisk walking or other exertions that raise one’s heart rate and breathing enough that conversation becomes difficult. However, only about 47 percent of American adults exercise enough, according to the latest federal statistics. This sobering statistic has prompted researchers to begin looking into the effects of smaller amounts of exercise. Most of the resulting research, though, has involved relatively small numbers of people, making broad conclusions about the best doses of exercise elusive.

For the new study, researchers at the University of Cambridge, Queen’s University Belfast, and other institutions decided to aggregate data from as many relevant past studies as possible, creating a far larger pool of participants and potentially more convincing results. They wound up with 196 studies, covering more than 30 million people, making this by many measures and a hefty margin, “the largest” study of how exercise contributes to longevity, said Leandro Garcia. Garcia is a public health and complexity researcher at Queen’s University Belfast who led the new study.

The aggregated data showed that 150 minutes of moderate weekly activity should remain our exercise lodestar. People who managed that much exertion were about 31 percent less likely to die prematurely than inactive people. However, since two-thirds of the 30 million-plus participants did not exercise that much, the researchers also looked at the impacts of less movement. Men and women who accumulated only 75 minutes a week of moderate exercise, or about 11 minutes a day, were 23 percent less likely to die prematurely from any cause than people who moved less.

Those 11 daily minutes of exercise also dropped people’s risks for heart disease by 17 percent and for cancer of any kind by 7 percent. For certain cancers, including myeloid leukemia, myeloma, and some stomach cancers, the risk fell by as much as 26 percent. The scientists also used statistical modeling to estimate that 16 percent, or 1 in 6, of all premature deaths would not happen if almost everyone exercised for 150 minutes a week, meeting the current guidelines. Even if everyone walked just 11 minutes a day, 1 in 10 early deaths might be averted, they concluded.

Despite its size and rigor, the study has some limitations. It shows correlations between more movement, longer lives, and less disease, but not whether exercise directly causes those gains. Other factors, such as genetics and income, probably play large roles. The aggregated studies also relied on people’s memories and reports about how much they exercise, which can be unreliable.

However, the findings of the study provide a helpful nudge towards incorporating physical activity into one’s daily routine. “Adding physical activity into one’s daily routine does not need to be daunting,” said Leandro Garcia, the lead researcher of the study. “Small and gradual changes are a great starting point and will bring a range of health benefits.”

There are numerous ways to incorporate physical activity into one’s daily routine, even if time and resources are limited. One simple way to increase physical activity is to park a little farther away from one’s office or destination, and walk the remaining distance. This small change can add up over time and contribute to an individual’s daily activity level. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator is another easy way to incorporate physical activity into one’s day. Even dancing around the living room with one’s kids or doing simple exercises during commercial breaks can help to increase daily physical activity levels.

It is also important to remember that physical activity does not need to be limited to structured exercise regimens. Engaging in activities such as gardening, household chores, or recreational sports can also contribute to an individual’s daily activity level and provide health benefits.

The benefits of exercise extend beyond physical health, with numerous studies indicating that exercise can also have a positive impact on mental health and wellbeing. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and improve cognitive function, including memory and attention span.

In addition to incorporating physical activity into one’s daily routine, it is also important to focus on overall health and wellbeing. A balanced diet, adequate sleep, and stress management techniques can all contribute to overall health and wellbeing. Research has indicated that diets high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Adequate sleep is also important for overall health and wellbeing. Sleep has been shown to play a crucial role in immune function, metabolism, and cognitive function. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

Stress management techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and yoga can also contribute to overall health and wellbeing. Chronic stress has been linked to numerous negative health outcomes, including increased risk of heart disease, depression, and anxiety. Developing a regular practice of stress management techniques can help to reduce the negative impacts of stress on both physical and mental health.

In conclusion, the recent study indicating the significant health benefits of just 11 minutes of daily physical activity is a reminder that incorporating physical activity into one’s daily routine is a crucial component of overall health and wellbeing. By making small, gradual changes to daily routines, individuals can improve their health outcomes and reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. In addition to physical activity, focusing on overall health and wellbeing through a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and stress management techniques can also contribute to optimal health and wellbeing.

Image by Daniel Reche from Pixabay