Healthy living

What's the least amount of exercise you need?

What s the least amount of exercise you need? Less than you think

Just 15 minutes of exercise a day can increase your life expectancy by three years and reduce the risk of dying by 14 per cent, according to research.

And every additional 15 minutes of daily exercise reduces the risk of death further, by four per cent, the study found.

Past research has shown that regular exercise can lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, dementia, brittle bones and some cancers. Exercise can also help to reduce stress, boost mood and improve sleep.

But the minimum amount of exercise needed to improve a person's health prospects is ill-defined.

Currently, the UK government recommends that adults should try to fit in 150 minutes of 'moderate intensity' physical activity every week.

But the latest study, published online in the Lancet, suggests people can still reap the health benefits of exercise by doing substantially less than this.

Researchers at the National Health Research Institutes, Taiwan, tracked the health of more than 400,000 Taiwanese men and women between 1996 and 2008, who took part in a medical screening programme. The participants filled in questionnaires about their leisure-time physical activity, including exercise duration and intensity.

Based on their responses, the participants were placed into one of five 'exercise volume' groups: inactive, low, medium, high, or very high activity.

People in the low volume group exercised, on average, for 92 minutes a week, or about 15 minutes a day.

When compared with those in the inactive group, those in the low volume group were 14 per cent less likely to die from any cause, 10 per cent less likely to die from any cancer and had an increased life expectancy of three years.

Every additional 15 minutes of daily exercise beyond the minimum amount of 15 minutes a day further reduced the risk of dying from any cause by four per cent and any cancer by one per cent, the study found.

The health benefits of low level exercise were true across all age groups, both sexes and whether the individuals had risk factors for heart disease.

The authors said: "In Taiwan, if inactive individuals engage in low-volume daily exercise, one in six all-cause deaths could be postponed — mortality reductions of similar magnitude have been estimated for a successful tobacco control programme in the general population.

"If the minimum amount of exercise we suggest is adhered to, mortality from heart disease, diabetes, and cancer could be reduced."

In an editorial in the same journal, Dr Anil Nigam and Dr Martin Juneau, of the Montreal Heart Institute and Université de Montréal, Quebec, said: "The knowledge that as little as 15 minutes per day of exercise on most days of the week can substantially reduce an individual's risk of dying could encourage many more individuals to incorporate a small amount of physical activity into their busy lives.

Governments and health professionals both have major roles to play to spread this good news story and convince people of the importance of being at least minimally active."

This article was published on Tue 16 August 2011

Image © Skogas -

Related Stories

Use this story

Heart disease, coronary
Link to this page
Printer friendly version

Share this page