We all know that a sedentary lifestyle isn’t ideal, but many people just can’t help it: they have jobs that require them to sit for extended periods of time, there aren’t accessible gyms in their area – any number of barriers can prevent a person from committing to a serious exercise regimen.
The good news for these individuals is that you don’t need to be doing several hours of intensive training in a gym every day to reap significant health benefits from exercise.
Even mild exercise, like casual walking, can go a long way to reducing your risk not just of developing obesity and other related health conditions, but even of dying from existing chronic conditions.
How Little Is A Little Bit Of Exercise?
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans – a tool which was developed to be used in coordination with the government’s diet guidelines – the minimum amount of physical activity we should all be getting comes out to a grand total of 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic physical activity (like running, biking or swimming), or 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (like walking) per week.(1)
If it sounds like a lot, it really isn’t. 150 minutes a week breaks down to just over 20 minutes of brisk walking per day to reduce your risk of obesity, diabetes, and other diseases.
But researchers wanted to know: what is the absolute minimum requirement for a person to reap health benefits of exercise? In other words, how little can you exercise before you start to see health benefits?
A recent study in JAMA examined various levels of activity in women with type 2 diabetes. They found that the highest risk activities were completely sedentary – sitting in front of the TV, for example – while even light physical activity, like walking around the house, lowered the study participants risk of obesity if done regularly.
In addition, some sedentary activities are lower-risk than others – driving a car, for example, or sitting while actively engaged in a task like sewing or writing, carried a lower risk for obesity and diabetes complications than completely sedentary activities like watching television(2).
Exercise And Chronic Illness
Another study published recently looked at the effects of low or light-intensity activities not just on the general population, but on those suffering from chronic kidney disease (CKD) as well.
What they found was that “trading off” sedentary activities like sitting for light intensity activities such as walking for just two minutes per hour – in addition to the minimum physical activity recommendations from the Physical Activity Guidelines For Americans – reduced the kidney disease patients risk of dying by 33%(3).
“Based on these results we would recommend adding two minutes of walking each hour in combination with normal activities, which should include 2.5 hours of moderate exercise each week,” says study leader Dr. Srinivasan Beddhu, stressing that even small increases to a mild exercise regimen can have a big impact.(4)
Chronic kidney disease isn’t the only disease that exercise has been shown to be beneficial for – mild exercise has been proven to help with cognitive impairment associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia as well(5).
Making The Time For Exercise
Many people with chronic illnesses struggle to find the time and energy for a daily exercise regimen. But the conclusion we can draw from this research is that you don’t need to be putting in hours at a the gym every day in order to be more active.
A 30 minute walk after dinner can not only help boost your metabolism(6), but can help prevent obesity and diabetes – and go a long way to helping with some chronic illnesses as well.