Move More, Live Longer: New Study Says Physical Activity at Any Intensity Can Have Positive Impact on Longevity

A gray haired man hiking through the forest with a woman.

Photo: Aleksandar Nakic/Getty Images

Move more, sit less, live longer.

Every step counts, advises the British Medical Journal (BMJ). And a lot more than you may think.

Even cooking and washing dishes count.

The BMJ reported this week that high levels of physical activity at any intensity are linked to a lower risk of early death in middle-aged and older people.

The journal emphasizes, with study results, an editorial and an opinion piece, that moving more is a key to healthy aging.

The BMJ found many ways to state how important this is:

  • “Walk more and sit less: even light exercise is linked to a lower risk of death.”
  • “Developing ways to limit sedentary time and increase activity at any level could considerably improve health and reduce mortality.”
  • “Activity prescribing (by health providers) is cheaper than many pharmaceutical interventions for cardiovascular disease and more effective at improving quality adjusted life years.”
  • “Walking is one promising target for intervention. It is simple, affordable (free), achievable even for older adults, and rarely contraindicated.”
  • “Sit less — move more and more often: all physical activity is beneficial for longevity.”

Previous studies have repeatedly suggested that being sedentary for 9.5 hours or more a day, excluding sleeping time, is associated with an increased risk of death.

The new results were found by Norwegian researchers who analyzed studies that assessed how physical activity and sedentary time were linked with risk of an early death.

With participants wearing tracking devices, they were able to measure accurately the total activity and intensity of activity, which was then separated into categories of light, moderate and vigorous.

Cooking or washing dishes were examples of light intensity, brisk walking or mowing the lawn were considered moderate intensity, and jogging or carrying heavy loads were used as examples of vigorous intensity.

The risk of death for participants was approximately five times higher for those who were inactive compared to those who were the most active, according to the researchers.

“The observation that light intensity physical activity also provided substantial health benefits is important for public health as this suggests that older people and those who are not able to be physically active at higher intensities will still benefit from just moving around,” said study authors Ulf Ekelund and Thomas Yates in the BMJ.

The study was conducted in the United States and Western Europe on 36,383 adults who were at least 40 years old, with an average age of 62. Participants were tracked over an average of 5.8 years.