Add about 75 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking, dancing, cycling, playing tennis, or walking—anything that gets your heart pumping, but not so intense that you leave a person short of breath.
One in 10 premature deaths could be prevented if everyone met that target, researchers reported Tuesday in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. It was enough to reduce the risk of developing heart disease by 17% and cancer by 7%, and it came with a 23% lower risk of premature death.
Results are based on a review and meta-analysis of 196 studies covering more than 30 million participants.
A little bit makes a big difference to your health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies recommend doing 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week, which appears to yield the most health benefits, according to the paper.
But even half that recommended amount makes an “appreciable” difference, as the new study shows, and sedentary people would benefit more if they moved a little more, the authors write.
That’s good news for those who find the idea of exercising 150 minutes a week daunting, says Søren Brage, Ph.D., co-author of the paper and head of the Epidemiology of Physical Activity group at the University of Cambridge. Some exercise is better than none, he notes.
“Our results are encouraging for those who currently do very little activity; it really makes a big difference to your health if you can manage to do a little, so hopefully this will motivate more people to move,” Brage told TODAY.com.
“Physical activity encompasses not just sweating in the gym. It’s broader than that and also includes walking or cycling to work… just getting up and using the big muscles in your legs, moving around to stimulate metabolism – that’s how we were designed and if we don’t use our muscles, they will. waste absent.”
It’s still great to hit the gym or go for a hard run, but that’s not to everyone’s taste or ability, while moderate activities like walking are safe for everyone, notes Brage.
If people find 75 minutes a week to be manageable, they can gradually increase to the full recommended amount of 150 minutes, he says. The article didn’t address whether it was better to spread exercise out over seven days or do fewer longer workouts per week.
Exercise for a mental health boost
This exercise routine is also a recipe for better mental health.
Physical activity is “highly beneficial” for improving symptoms of depression and anxiety in adults — more effective than counseling or medication, finds a separate new review of studies published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
“Importantly, research shows that it doesn’t take much for exercise to make a positive change in your mental health,” said Ben Singh, Ph.D., lead author and researcher at the University of South Australia, in a statement.
“However, despite the evidence, it has not been widely adopted as a first-line treatment,” he added.
All types of physical activity were beneficial, including walking, resistance training, pilates and yoga. But bursts of higher-intensity exercise had greater improvements for depression and anxiety, perhaps because it stimulates the neurological and hormonal changes associated with greater mood improvements, the paper noted.
Exercise programs that lasted three months or less had the greatest effect, perhaps because people stopped following longer regimens, the authors wrote.
They were also surprised that smaller weekly doses of exercise had a greater impact on improving mental health than larger doses – although no specific number of minutes per week was recommended in the review. It may be that longer exercise is “more burdensome,” which in turn affects psychological benefits, the authors wrote.
Results are based on 97 reviews spanning over 1,000 trials and 128,000 participants.
Exercise can have a beneficial effect on mental health through the release of mood-enhancing neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and endorphins, Wendy Suzuki, professor of neural science at New York University, previously told TODAY.com.
“I think exercise is an excellent tool for anxiety,” said Suzuki, who was not involved in the new research.
“Moving the body, including increasing regular walking, is an easily accessible and powerful tool to use.”
This article originally appeared on TODAY.com