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Study Shows Walking an Hour a Day Achieves Greatest Longevity Benefit

By Stacy Simon

Researchers from the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and others have found that getting 3 to 5 times the amount of recommended leisure-time physical activity results in the greatest benefit in terms of a longer life. The study was published online April 6, 2015 in JAMA Internal Medicine. One way to achieve this benefit is by walking an hour a day.

The US Department of Health and Human Services and the American Cancer Society are among organizations that recommend adults get at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate intensity or 75 minutes (1.25) hours of vigorous intensity activity each week, preferably spread throughout the week. Moderate-intensity activities are those at the level of a brisk walk. Vigorous-intensity activities increase your heart rate and breathing, and make you sweat.

For the current study, researchers looked at data from more than half a million men and women participating in 6 studies, including the American Cancer Society Cancer Prevention Study II. Participants reported the time they spent on activities beyond their normal everyday tasks, including walking, jogging, running, swimming, tennis, racquetball, bicycling, aerobics, and dance.

The study found that most of the longer-life benefit possible is reached by getting the minimum recommended amounts of physical activity. People who achieved this level of activity lowered their risk of death by 31% compared to those who got no leisure-time activity.

The study found even greater benefits were achieved by getting even more leisure-time physical activity. People who got 3 to 5 times the recommended amount lowered their risk of death by 39% compared to those getting no leisure-time activity.

After that, however, the additional longevity benefit leveled off. Those who got even higher amounts of physical activity – as much as 10 times the recommended minimum level – got about the same longevity benefit. Although their risk of death did not decrease at this level, it didn’t increase, either. The authors say these findings can reassure very active people that high levels of exercise are safe.

Every little bit helps

There are many, many ways to get 3 to 5 times the recommended amount of leisure-time physical activity. They include:

  • Walking 7 hours a week
  • Biking leisurely 5 hours a week
  • Running at a 10 minute-per-mile pace for 2 hours and 15 minutes a week

For people who are getting less than the recommended amount of activity, adding even a little bit more helps. According to Alpa Patel, PhD, a researcher for the study and also American Cancer Society Strategic Director, Cancer Prevention Study 3, “The greatest benefit is going from doing nothing to doing something, even if it’s less than the minimum recommended amount.”

Citation: Leisure Time Physical Activity and Mortality: A Detailed Pooled Analysis of the Dose-Response Relationship. Published online April 6, 2015 in JAMA Internal Medicine. First author Hannah Arem, MHS, PhD. National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Md.