Squeezing a workout into a busy schedule can be difficult. However, new research shows that getting just 15 minutes of physical activity over the course of a week is associated with a lower risk of premature death compared with no exercise at all — as long as the exercise gets your heart pumping.
For the study, published October 27 in the European Heart Journal, researchers used the dataset to track nearly 72,000 people in the UK aged 40 to 69 who were free of cardiovascular disease at enrollment. disease or cancer, about seven years. The researchers focused on one week at the start of the study, during which each person wore an activity tracker on their wrist. People who did not engage in vigorous activity during that week had a 4 percent risk of dying during the study, but that risk was cut in half for those who did at least 10 minutes. Among those who got 60 minutes or more, that risk dropped to 1 percent. Overall, the researchers estimated that 15 to 20 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week was associated with a 16 to 40 percent lower risk of death.
Not surprisingly, the more time people spent in vigorous physical activity, the greater the longevity benefit. But the “sweet spot” where people benefit the most is about 60 minutes a week. (That’s not to say that exercising for more than an hour is necessarily worse, Ahmadi points out; because the study didn’t include many people who did more vigorous physical activity, the potential maximum benefit from more vigorous physical activity is unknown.
Even if people don’t have time to hit the gym, research shows it’s possible to reap the health benefits of everyday activity.
A similar observational study by another group of researchers, published Oct. 27 in the European Heart Journal, also suggests that the intensity of physical activity — not just the amount of time spent exercising — is important for reducing cardiovascular disease. For the study, the researchers also looked at adults of the same age in the same UK dataset, following around 88,000 people for about seven years.
After analyzing data from a week in which people used activity trackers, researchers found that even without increasing the amount of time people exercised, engaging in higher-intensity physical activity was associated with a reduction in people’s cardiovascular disease. For example, people who walked briskly for seven minutes during that week rather than walked slowly for 14 minutes had a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease later in life.
The studies were all observational, meaning the study could not prove that physical activity was the reason people who were physically active lived longer or had less cardiovascular disease than those who were not. A week of physical activity is also just a moment in time, and people’s habits may have changed later. However, other studies have also found that short bouts of exercise can reduce the risk of death. A 2011 study published in The Lancet found that as little as 15 minutes of physical activity a day can reduce the risk of early death. A 2014 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that running for five to 10 minutes a day could reduce premature death from any cause.
The new study doesn’t mean the total amount of time you spend exercising doesn’t matter, people with the lowest rates of cardiovascular disease got more physical activity overall and got the most moderate to vigorous physical activity.
While any exercise is valuable, if you’re pressed for time, adding a little more intensity can provide unique health benefits while also potentially making your workout more time-efficient.